When should you start to think about bone density? Now. No matter what your age is, you should be thinking about — and building — bone density.
You probably already know that weight-bearing exercises build bone. But you may not know that there are posture exercises that can contribute to healthy bones. That’s because when your body is in proper alignment, your bones will bear your body weight correctly throughout the day.
Here are four simple posture tips to help build strong bones.
1. Wear Flat, Flexible Shoes
One of the most important things you can do for good posture — and bone density — is to invest in good-quality shoes. Flat, flexible footwear is best. In fact, the ideal shoe is as close as you can get to being barefoot. Your shoe should allow for movement through the sole with a wide toe box.
2. Practice Hips-Over-Heels Alignment
Hips over heels is the best alignment for building bone density. To see if you’re in alignment, kick your shoes and socks off, stand naturally in front of a full-length mirror, then look down at your feet. Think about where you carry your weight over your feet. Does it feel centered over your heels or do you feel more pressure in the ball of your foot?
When you are in hips-over-heels alignment you will be able to easily lift your toes off the floor while keeping your balance. If you aren’t able to lift your toes due to the pressure toward the front of your feet, this is a sign you are standing and walking with your hips and pelvis pushed forward. That alignment takes weight-bearing work away from your hips, and won’t help build bone density.
To see what the alignment of hips over heels looks and feels like, stand sideways to your full-length mirror. Looking at the mirror, practice bringing your hips and pelvis back so you feel your weight in your heels and can lift your toes off the floor. Your hips should be stacked directly above your ankles when seen from the side.
Standing in this alignment can take a lot of practice at first. The mirror allows you to use visual feedback in the initial stages of practice. If you feel as though you are being pulled backward and have difficulty keeping your balance, it’s a sign you need to stretch the backs of your legs. Keep working toward hips-over-heels alignment so you can build bone density while you stand and walk every day.
3. Stretch the Muscles in the Backs of Your Legs
If hips-over-heels alignment doesn’t feel possible for you, you’ll need to lengthen the muscles in the backs of the legs. If you’re a woman, years of high heels may have shortened your calves and hamstrings. As a result, you may have changed the geometry of your pelvis and trunk to accommodate. Moving to flat shoes and regularly stretching your calves and hamstrings — down dog is great for this — can get you back in alignment.
4. Walk Daily but Avoid the Treadmill
Walking is one of the most important activities for building bone density — but not just any walking. Location and form make a big difference. For building bone density through improved posture, skip the treadmill. Walking on a treadmill takes you out of hips-over-heels alignment, having the opposite effect of what you’re going for. Walking over ground, whether indoors or outdoors, allows you to maintain the alignment for building healthy bone density. Walking in short bursts throughout the day is your best option, and vary your walking environment as often as possible.
Brittany Denis is a physical therapist and restorative exercise specialist. She is co-owner of Advanced Balance Clinic.