Have a Blast—and Boost Your Bones!

New ways to exercise that let you have fun and strengthen your bones.

By Liz Neporent

You know exercise is one of the most important ways to support your joints and beef up bone strength. But if you find plodding along on a treadmill or slogging through a weight circuit at the gym a huge bore, you’re not likely to stick with it. The good news? “There are many different ways to strengthen bones, and not all of them are conventional exercise,” says John R. Martinez, DPT, owner and clinical director of Australian Physiotherapy Experts in New York City. “You’ve got to find something that’s exciting and motivating for you.” Need a suggestion? Martinez recommends giving these a try!

Hit the pool!

  • Why it’s good for your bones: Martinez says that water can be a good environment for someone with joint problems; it can provide some resistance while cushioning and supporting 90% of your body weight. The muscle forces that are generated by pushing against water can be improved with the use of fins or paddles.
  • How to get the most benefit: Check with your local pool to see what aqua fitness, aqua dance or aqua running classes they offer. Or wade into waist-high water and walk the width of the pool and back; use foam aqua weights to do underwater strength training.
  • Caveats: Factor in time for travel, showers and changing. Some pools ask you to buy extra equipment such as bathing caps and kickboards.

Try gymnastics!

  • Why it’s good for your bones: Gymnastics may seem like a pursuit that’s out of reach for all but pixies, but Martinez says adult gymnastics classes are a surprisingly gentle way to build full-body bone strength. In fact, studies have shown that gymnasts have denser bones. Plus, gymnastics hits the wrists, elbows and shoulders, which don’t get much action during activities like walking, Martinez says.
  • How to get the most benefit: Look for a serious gymnastics center that offers adult beginner classes. That’s where you’ll find the best coaching and equipment for people past their teens.
  • Caveats: Prepare to feel somewhat intimidated. It takes a long time to learn the basic skills thoroughly—but if you’re up for the challenge, it can be rewarding.

Take up Zumba

  • Why it’s good for your bones: What could be more infectiously fun than this Latin-inspired fitness class? Martinez says he loves this workout style because it’s low-impact, full-body and adaptable to almost any fitness level. It strengthens muscles and bones, no prior dance or exercise training necessary.
  • How to get the most benefit: Don’t worry about copying the movements of your instructor exactly—just keep moving to the beat. There’s no wrong way to work up a Zumba sweat. However, if you feel self-conscious, Martinez suggests starting with a DVD to help learn the basics.
  • Caveats: Working out with a gaggle of boisterous Zumba lovers takes some getting used to. You may have to search for a class near you with a convenient schedule.

Give “exer-gaming” a shot!

  • Why it’s good for your bones: With exer-gaming you can play a tennis match, duke it out in the boxing ring or snowboard down a mountain, all in the comfort of your home. Martinez uses a Wii in his physical therapy practice; his clients love it. He considers gaming a safe, fun way to strengthen the entire skeletal frame.
  • How to get the most benefit: Choose games that work your entire body. Start on beginner settings that allow you to ramp up and learn skills at your own pace. Or, ask a digital native to show you the ropes.
  • Caveats: A gaming setup costs $100-$600, and individual games go for as much as $60 a pop. If you’re technologically challenged, getting your system up and running could be frustrating. 
Published March 2014

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