Walking is great exercise. In Australia, walking is one of the most popular forms of exercise because it’s simple, accessible and offers a plethora of health benefits. Regular walking can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, help manage weight, blood pressure and cholesterol, help prevent and control diabetes, reduce cancer risk, and improve mental health to name just a few benefits. Regular physical activity, including walking, should be part of our daily routines.
There is no doubt walking is highly beneficial for our health, however unfortunately it seems our skeleton is the one bodily system that doesn’t really benefit from regular walks. There is a little bit of conflicting evidence surrounding this statement, but the general consensus worldwide is that walking alone will not significantly impact bone density.
Some studies have shown that high intensity (brisk) walking can have a positive effect on the bone density of postmenopausal women with osteoporosis1. But there have also been large studies showing walking is not enough to preserve bone mineral density in these women2,3.
Better ways to build Bone Density
Having trawled through the research, this is where I stand on walking for those wanting to improve bone density:
For those at risk of falling or frail
If you are very frail and at risk of falling, I would not recommend regular walking to target bone density. Walking will only increase your risk of falls, and won’t help build muscle or improve balance. You are much better off working on balance exercises and some simple muscle strengthening exercises.
For those generally mobile but have low bone density or osteoporosis
If you have low bone density or osteoporosis, but are generally mobile, I would suggest completing at least 2 days a week of strengthening exercises, and regular balance exercises and weight bearing activities with appropriate impact. I would also say, it wouldn’t hurt to include regular brisk walking, but not to the exclusion of the above activities.
Put simply, I would never prescribe walking as the ONLY exercise for someone looking to maintain or improve their bone density. There are much better bone building exercises to do! Keep walking for your health and wellbeing, but make sure your bones are getting some exercise too.
1Bonaiuti D et al. Exercise for preventing and treating osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2002
2 Martyn-St James M, Carroll S. Meta-analysis of walking for preservation of bone mineral density in postmenopausal women. Bone. 2008 Sep;43(3):521-31
3 Ma D, Wu L, He Z. Effects of walking on the preservation of bone mineral density in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Menopause. 2013 Nov;20(11):1216-26