The movement science on building bone has been unfolding for decades and is progressing all of the time.
I want to focus in on a couple of central concepts from the movement literature to help guide your decision making around the movements you engage with.
1) Focus on spinal extension
2) Practice good biomechanics – including spinal alignment
3) Grow muscle to grow bone
1) Focus on Spinal Extension
A research study from the early 1980’s by Sinaki et al looked at three groups of about 60 people, all with a history of kyphosis/ loss of height in their vertebral bodies.
One group performed 2 extension exercises, one group performed 2 flexion exercises, and the other group performed both exercise practices (flexion and extension).
The group that practiced extension only exercises fared much better for the long term (about 1.5 years out of the intervention), with 89% demonstrating no further loss of vertebral height or kyphosis.
2) Practice Good Biomechanics
We have shared in so many ways that bone develops based on how you move and the posture you assume. As such, it is really important to learn how to move with sound mechanics. How to perform a squat that is nourishing for your hip and knee joints as well as protective for your spine. How to perform core strengthening that does not diminish the health of your spine.
This is really important. Of all the current large exercise protocols- the daily method, barre class, pilates, the perfect workout, cross fit- none of these techniques are currently successful in educating their students to move with good biomechanics. Why? Simply because many coaches and teachers do not know the relevance of good biomechanics.
The movement science has not yet integrated into our fitness routines. There may be some hubris or bias behind this. But that does not matter. What matters is that we as individuals learn to move our bodies and create healthful movement.
We do not need to give up the fitness routines that we love- we just need to add another lens of movement science and safety to help us modify what and how we are moving.
“My back has always been this way, is it really possible to change? “”My mother (grandmother, Auntie) had the same spine that I do, is change really possible?”
Yes! A randomized control trial conducted by Dr. Wendy Katzman in 2017 took 100 participants with kyphosis through an exercise routine (that lasted about an hour) 3 times a week for 6 months. Many of the exercises were based on extension, building extension strength and working while supine on the foam roller. Dr. Katzman noted significant change in reduction in kyphosis angles up to 6 months out of the exercise intervention.
Bone is bioplastic and dynamic- it is just waiting for new input to behave differently.
3) Build Muscle to Build Bone (and Improve Balance)
As we age, we lose muscle. This process is known as sarcopenia. Skeletal muscle loss also drives bone loss (muscle and bone co-exist an rely on one another). Without the compression and force from skeletal muscle, bone atrophies and dies.
For a long time, there existed messages around avoiding loads and high impact for people with loss in bone density. These messages were a catch 22- we knew that loading (with weight) and impact was necessary for bone building- yet there was a fear around the safety of these activities among populations with lower bone density.
All of this is currently changing. Current research is identifying the safety of high load and high impact training among women with a history of compression fractures and osteoporosis. This research is conducted in person, with very small groups (2-3 people) to enhance safety.
The research is finding that not only are the movement practices safe, they help participants create bone even after the diagnosis of osteoporosis.
Please understand that movement is one of many factors that contribute to bone health. Thyroid and parathyroid health, balancing rest, cognitive and behavioral health, dietary practices as well as long term medications all contribute to bone density. Please speak with your medical doctor before starting this or any movement program.
For more information on the science of Building Good Bone, you can purchase the workshop recording here.
Movement shapes bone like water running over rock. Anyone who has been to Yosemite and witnessed first hand the power water has had in carving the magnificent granite valley knows the potential of this power first hand! Good biomechanics for the win in bone health!