How Walking Can Improve Bone and Joint Health

By Erin Palinski-Wade

Walking is a weight‐bearing exercise, which can help to strengthen and build bone. The more you walk, the stronger the bones in your hips and legs can become, helping to protect against fracture.

Bone and joint disease are quite prevalent in America. According to the CDC, one in five adults has been diagnosed with arthritis. In addition, 49.7 percent of adults age 65 years or older have arthritis. In fact, it’s estimated that by 2030, 67 million Americans ages 18 years and older will be diagnosed with this condition.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates about 12million people over the age of 50 have osteoporosis and another 40 million have low bone mass, putting them at risk for developing osteoporosis. By 2020, the prevalence of osteoporosis is expected to climb to 14 million cases along with 47 million cases of low bone mass.

With this rise, it is estimated that about 40 percent of Caucasian women and 13 percent of Caucasian men over the age of 50 will experience at least one fracture due to low bone density in their lifetime, as those of Caucasian decent along with those of Asian descent are at a greater risk of osteoporosis.

When you look at these statistics, you see that a staggering number of people are impacted by bone and joint disease on a daily basis. These diseases can be crippling over time. However, by just increasing daily movement with walking, these diseases can be prevented, managed, or even reversed!

When it comes to bone health, it doesn’t take much to decrease the risk of fractures. A Harvard Medical School study found that women who walked just four hours per week were as much as 41 percent less likely to suffer a hip fracture compared to those who walked only one hour per week.

Joint pain can also be managed and decreased with regular walking. Partaking in low‐impact exercise, such as walking, over a six‐month period was found to decrease joint pain in arthritis sufferers by 25 percent and decrease stiffness by 16 percent.

Why does walking help? When you exercise, you strengthen muscles. The stronger your muscles are around your joints, the less stress there is on your joints. For instance, research has shown that having weak muscles in the thigh can increase the risk of osteoarthritis in the knee. However, just small gains in strength in these muscles, which walking can help with, can significantly reduce the risk.

Back pain, which affects as many as seven out of ten Americans, can also be reduced with walking. A study published in The Spine Journal found that just one exercise session can reduce lower back pain by as much as 10 to 50 percent. Other research found that just a ten‐minute walk on the treadmill was shown to lead to a significant reduction in back pain.

So why does such a small amount of walking lead to such a big impact on back pain? There may be many reasons. Walking can help to strengthen back muscles, improve posture, and improve flexibility — all things that can lessen back pain.

In addition, working large muscle groups, such as the muscles in the legs and core, helps to stimulate signals from large nerves to the brain. The signals from the larger nerves are thought to block pain signals coming from smaller nerves, so you literally feel less pain. In addition, the boost in “feel‐good” brain chemicals, such as serotonin and endorphins, helps you to feel better and manage pain better.