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How does exercise affect the bones and joints?

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Quick Answer

The medical community has long agreed that exercise is good for the body's overall health and fitness, but MedlinePlus explains that regular exercise is known to reduce the effects of aging on bones and joints. Engaging in a moderate exercise program improves flexibility, keeps joints limber and helps bones stay strong.

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How does exercise affect the bones and joints?
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Full Answer

A New York Times article explains that exercise is crucial for preventing the natural degeneration of the bones and joints that occurs during the aging process. Osteoarthritis is the most notable example of the deleterious effect of aging on joints and bones. Patients with osteoarthritis who perform low-impact aerobics and strength training often see reduced degeneration and a decrease in pain. Long periods without exercise cause the joints to lock up and the adjoining tissue to weaken, leading to arthritic flare ups.

The New York Times also notes that weight-bearing activities increase the strength of the bone itself. People of all ages can benefit from weight-bearing exercises that impose mild stress on the bones. The stress then causes mild bone damage, which the body repairs by regrowing the bone denser and stronger than before. Stronger and denser bones are less likely to break and help support the body overall.

Strength training and weight-bearing activities such as walking, hiking and tennis force the body to add bone density, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. These types of exercises also help men and women build and maintain muscle strength and coordination, which further prevents falls and fractures.

Strong muscles also relieve some of the burden on joints, according to the Hospital for Special Surgery. Exercise may also protect joints by helping individuals maintain or lose weight. For example, each pound of weight gained adds four times as much stress on the knee joints. Flexibility exercises also improve joint functioning according to WebMD. Exercises such as yoga, Pilates and stretching increase and maintain range of motion. These exercises should be performed at least three days per week.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. Moderate-intensity exercises include exercise such as walking and leisurely biking. Vigorous exercise includes running and biking on hills. Two days a week should be dedicated to strength training exercises that target major muscle groups.

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