Do Bones Get Bigger With Working Out?

Man lifting dumbbells

Your bones provide the framework for your entire body. As you age, these bones start to lose density, increasing your risk for fractures. Impact exercise that requires you to overcome forces, such as gravity, can make your bones denser and wider. Understanding what exercises can stimulate bone growth can help prevent future fractures.

Exercise’s Effects on Density

When you perform exercises that involve muscle pulling on bone -- such as resistance-training exercises -- or your foot striking the ground repeatedly, this activity signals your brain to build more bone. Weight-bearing exercises can increase bone density in young adults by between 2 and 8 percent each year, according to “The New York Times.” Note that exercise does not make your bones necessarily grow longer. However, increasing bone density does mean your bones grow stronger and harder to break.

Exercise and Bone Width

Regular resistance-training exercises do have the potential to increase bone width, according to the BBC. While the exact increase in bone width is unknown, wider bones also reduce the likelihood you will experience a bone fracture. Think of this effect as trying to snap a wide branch versus a thin twig -- the twig is much easier to break.

Exercise Considerations

Not all exercises will increase bone density. Only those that involve resisting against a force will effectively boost bone density. Examples include weight training, jogging, step aerobics and playing sports like tennis, basketball and football. Walking at a moderate pace and swimming are not associated with bone-building benefits due to their low impact. However, brisk walking at a fast pace, which increases your heart rate, can improve bone density, according to “The New York Times.”

Indiana University Research Study

A study presented at the 2004 American Physiological Society Intersociety Meeting found that resistance exercise during adolescence -- typically between ages 10 and 18 -- can have a profound effect on skeletal growth and development. Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis conducted the study. Charles H. Turner, a professor at the school, recommends exercises such as running and jumping for kids because of their bone-building benefits. These exercises do not affect longitudinal bone growth, meaning they do not affect bone length, but can help to increase bone strength. However, Professor Turner advised against heavy weightlifting, which can slow bone growth and stunt a young person’s height.