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How does physical activity help build healthy bones?

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Bones are living tissue. Weight-bearing physical activity causes new bone tissue to form, and this makes bones stronger. This kind of physical activity also makes muscles stronger. Bones and muscles both become stronger when muscles push and tug against bones during physical activity.

Weight-bearing physical activity keeps you on your feet so that your legs carry your body weight.1 Some examples of weight-bearing physical activities include:

Walking, jogging, or running
Playing tennis or racquetball
Playing field hockey
Climbing stairs
Jumping rope and other types of jumping
Playing basketball
Dancing
Hiking
Playing soccer
Lifting weights

Swimming and bicycling are not weight-bearing activities, so they do not directly help build bones. But swimming and bicycling do help build strong muscles, and having strong muscles helps build strong bones. These activities are also good for the heart and for overall health.

Bone-strengthening activities are especially important for children and teens because the greatest gains in bone mass occur just before and during puberty. They obtain their lifetime peak bone mass in their teens.2

  • Children and teens aged 6 to 17 years should get a total of 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Short bursts of activity throughout the day can add up to the recommended total.
  • Children and teens should participate in bone-strengthening activities at least 3 days each week.
  • Younger children, aged 2 to 5 years, should play actively several times every day.3

Best Bones Forever is a bone health campaign for girls and their friends to "grow strong together and stay strong forever!" Created by the U.S. Office on Women's Health, it includes an interactive and educational website to engage girls in learning about and participating in bone-strengthening activities.

Are you or your children at risk for weak bones? The Surgeon General's Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis: What it Means for You provides a checklist of the signs.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Nutrition for everyone: Calcium and bone health. Retrieved May 22, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/vitamins/calcium.html [top]
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2011). 2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans. (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Retrieved April 21, 2012, from http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/default.aspx [top]
  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2010, December). Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010 (7th ed.). Retrieved April 21, 2012, from http://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/DGAs2010-PolicyDocument.htm [top]

Last Updated Date: 05/14/2014
Last Reviewed Date: 05/06/2014
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