As we age, our bone health becomes increasingly important. The bones act as armor for our brains, hearts, and internal organs, as well as storing essential minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. Between the ages of 25 to 50, bone health tends to remain consistent. However, after age 50, the deterioration of bones accelerates significantly, and the risk of osteoporosis and brittle bones soars—especially for women. According to the Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation (BHOF), an estimated 20 percent of Caucasian women age 50 and older have osteoporosis, and over half of the same demographic are estimated to have low bone mass. Fortunately, you can take steps to strengthen your bones, prevent bone loss, and improve your balance, posture, and mobility—and doing one daily activity in particular can go a long way, experts say. Read on to find out what it is, and how it can keep your bones strong through the years.
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Maintaining strong bones is vital for all ages and stages of life, since your skeleton is where your body stores calcium—an essential mineral that’s involved in building healthy bones and teeth, muscle contractions, blood clotting, nerve function, and regulating your heartbeat.
Many people don’t realize they have deteriorating bone health. Often the first sign of osteoporosis is a bone break or fracture. That’s because bone loss occurs gradually and no symptoms display in the early stages of osteoporosis. To keep your bones healthy as you age, you must adopt healthy lifestyle habits that strengthen your bones. For example, eat calcium-rich foods—like dark leafy greens, tofu, beans, lentils, fortified foods—exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, and avoid alcohol and tobacco use.
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Developing a consistent yoga practice helps safeguard your bones and reduce your risk of breaks or fractures. According to a 2021 study, yoga provides many benefits for your skeletal system, including better balance, improved posture, a broader range of motion, and increased coordination.
However, yoga alone isn’t enough to strengthen your bones and prevent bone loss. In a 2021 meta-review published in PLOS One, researchers reviewed several studies that examined yoga’s impact on bone mineral density in nearly 600 women aged between 45 and 78. The findings concluded that yoga alone showed no signs of improving bone mineral density among participants. That said, yoga is still an excellent tool for strengthening your joints and muscles. Pamela Crane, MS, C-IAYT, E-RYT 500, owner at Interoceptive Performance, tells Best Life, “Yoga strengthens the muscles surrounding the joints and bones, and can create or maintain stability and mobility.”
Though yoga won’t strengthen your bones on its own, pairing it with resistance training exercises, such as weightlifting or calisthenics, is a recipe for stronger muscles and more robust bones. In addition, a combined yoga and strength training routine can help slow the rate of bone loss as you age and reduce your risk of bone breaks and fractures.
You can achieve peak bone health by adding light dumbbells or resistance bands to your yoga routine. This will increase the load on your bones, thereby increasing bone mineral density and preventing bone loss. The PLOS One study observed that participants experienced improved balance and strength by incorporating resistance movements into their yoga practice.
“Yoga is different than other weight-bearing practices because if practiced correctly, it won’t damage cartilage or stress the joints,” says Nicole Smith, certified yoga instructor and co-founder of Zenchronicity. “Instead, yoga lengthens fascia and muscles that hold the joints and bones in place, creating tension by pulling the muscle on the bone.”
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Yoga is an ancient practice with various methods and health benefits (such as strengthening the brain). But one kind of yoga rises above the rest in terms of building strength and positively affecting bone health. “Yoga asana is a weight-bearing practice that asks your body to work against gravity. This strengthens muscles, which in turn supports the joints by taking pressure off them,” explains Elyce Semenec, certified yoga instructor and owner of Elyce Semenec Wellness. “Bones support the muscles, and as your muscles contract […] this stimulates the bones to strengthen themselves.”
While maintaining a yoga practice is excellent for your balance, stability, and flexibility, don’t count on it to fend off osteoporosis or boost your bone health by itself. Instead, combine resistance training with your yoga routine to give yourself the best chance at maintaining strong bones well into old age.