Do Ellipticals Build Bone Mass?
More than 40 million Americans have or are at high risk of developing osteoporosis, reported the National Institutes of Health in 2011. Regularly performing weight-bearing exercise helps reduce your risk of this debilitating bone condition. If you have aches and pains in your joints, however, traditional weight-bearing exercise, such as jogging or aerobic dance, may not be possible for you. You turn to the elliptical trainer as an alternative because it's easier on the joints, but wonder if you're still doing your skeleton any good. Rest assured, an elliptical workout does do your body good -- even your bones.
What is Weight Bearing
You may have heard that weight-bearing activity builds bone density, but aren't exactly sure what this means. "Weight-bearing" refers to activity during which your bones must work against gravity to support your weight. Strength training is considered weight-bearing because your bones have to work against weights. Activity done on your feet tends to be weight-bearing, the elliptical trainer included. Swimming and cycling are not weight-bearing activities, although they can be effectve for developing aerobic fitness. Standing to power up hills in an indoor cycling class or outdoors is weight bearing.
Bones grow in response to the stress of weight-bearing exercise. Muscle pulling on the bone stimulates the cells to grow stronger and denser. Although you aren't pounding when you pedal away on an elliptical -- after all, your feet never leave the pedals -- you are standing during the entire workout. Standing on your feet puts stress on your skeleton because it has to support your weight.
Compared to Other Activities
Robert Recker, professor of medicine at Creighton University in Omaha and a scientific adviser to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, told the "Washington Post" in 2004 that a workout on the elliptical is nearly equal to a run of equal time when it comes to building bone density. Head-to-head studies comparing the bone-density effects of running versus elliptical training are not available, however. You may experience slightly more bone-building benefit by choosing higher-impact activities such as jumping and running, admits Recker. If your joints will tolerate the impact, consider including these higher-impact activities during some of your weekly workouts.
The elliptical can be a good choice if you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis. The NIH notes that high-impact exercise is often contraindicated for people with osteoporosis because it increases your risk of breaking a bone. The elliptical is low impact and thus provides a potentially safe option. If exercise is new for you, consult with your health care provider before starting a routine on the elliptical.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.