Breaking news on bones

By Jo Finzi

It’s important to keep your bones healthy at any age. Too many women don’t consider strengthening their inner structure until a fracture occurs in their 50s, and they’re suddenly immobile.

But the story begins much earlier than that. It’s now been proved that good bone health in your twenties and thirties will stand you in good stead later on. So if you want to avoid the agony of osteoporosis, now’s the time to start. pictureOne of the downsides of the fashion to be a size-zero is that it’s nearly impossible to get enough nutrition from a very low calorie intake. A serious lack of calcium is a common feature of the lettuce leaf diet.

Many young women seem bent on staying slim by eating tiny meals, while keeping themselves part of the social scene by consuming alcohol and caffeine. Sadly both these social drinks leach calcium from the body.

Most women are unaware that calcium is also a requirement of efficient fat burning. Recent research indicates that eating dairy products could give your bones the calcium they need, while helping you to keep slim. Although most calcium is used to build bones, a small percentage is needed for muscle function - and efficient muscles mean more fat burning power.

If you’re allergic or intolerant to dairy products, you can get your calcium from dark-green vegetables, bony fish and seeds - and you can add to your intake with calcium supplements.

As well as having a healthy diet, it’s equally important to start a bone building regime in your twenties. It’s been proved that exercise in your twenties and thirties is a significant factor in bone density. But figures in a recent UK study showed that only 32% of women in that age group were taking regular exercise.

People have known for a while that impact exercise such as running is a vital factor in increasing in bone density, but the latest research shows that weight training is equally important. Weights place stress on the bones through the muscles and tendons attached to them so that the body deposits calcium where it’s most needed. This is illustrated by studies of tennis players which have shown they have higher bone density in the hand, arm and shoulder of their “racket” hand.

Here are two exercise routines recommended by UK’s fitness guru Matt Roberts (pictured) that are designed to increase bone density. The first for is younger, fitter women; the second is a less intense version.

RPE (below) is the abbreviation for rate of perceived exertion (1 is total relaxation, while 10 is maximum exercise intensity). The description of how to do each exercise in the programme is also below.


Take up: hockey, running, tennis, squash

Cardio training

Cross-trainer, 8 minutes (RPE 4-7); Running, 15 minutes (interval training: 2 minutes at RPE 7, 1 minute at RPE 9 x 5); Rowing (250m, 45-second break x 3, RPE 7)

Resistance training

Plyometric press-ups x 15; Squats with shoulder press x 12; Single-arm rows x 12; Plyometric lunges x 12 (each leg); Biceps curls x 20 Abdominal crunches x 30

Perform the sequence above 3 times and then stretch out


Take up: tennis, running, power-walking

Warm up

Cross-trainer, 5 minutes (RPE 7)

Resistance training

Dumbbell chest presses x 12; Alternate lunges x 12 (each leg); Single-arm rows x 15

Repeat the sequence of 3 exercises above 3 times

Chest flies x 12 Squats with shoulder press x 12 Triceps dips x 12

Repeat the sequence above 3 times

Run/hill walk 3 minutes (RPE 8); Alternate lunges and lateral raises x 12; Biceps curls x 12; Abdominal crunches x 20

Repeat the sequence above 3 times. Finally, stretch out.


Plyometric press-up: Balance on your toes and hands. Place your hands directly under your shoulders, keeping your fingers pointing forward and your torso and legs straight. Bend your arms to about 90 degrees and lower your body, keeping your head in line with your spine. Keep your stomach and thigh muscles tight. Be careful not to push your bottom in the air. Push yourself back up to the starting position with a little jump. Remember to exhale on the way down and inhale as you press up.

Dumbbell chest press: Lie on your back on a bench, knees bent. Hold a 5kg weight in each hand, bend your arms at the elbows so that your forearms are vertical, palms facing away from you. Extend your arms upwards, keeping a very slight bend in the elbow. Return to the starting position.

Chest flies: Lie on your back on a bench, knees bent. Holding a 4kg weight in each hand, bend your arms so that your elbows are at 90 degrees. With palms facing the wall opposite you, extend your arms away from your sides until your hands are level with your shoulders. Slowly raise the weights until your arms are nearly fully extended above your chest. Slowly return to the starting position.

Single-arm row: Place your right knee and hand on a bench and keep your left foot firmly on the floor. Holding a 7kg dumbbell in your left hand, keep your back parallel to the bench and let this arm hang towards the floor. Pull the dumbbell up towards your chest, keeping your back straight. Return to the starting position.

Biceps curls: Stand with the feet hip width apart, knees slightly bent, holding a 3kg weight in each hand. With your arms by your sides, elbows slightly bent and palms facing up, bend your arms and lift the weights up towards the shoulders, keeping the elbows tucked in close to the body. Slowly lower back to the starting position.

Lateral raises: Stand with the feet hip width apart, knees slightly bent. Start with the arms by your sides, holding a 3kg weight in each hand. Slowly raise your arms, keeping the elbows slightly bent, until your hands are at shoulder level. Lower slowly.

Triceps dips: Squat with your back to a bench, with your heels 60-90cm in front of your bottom. Grip the edge of the bench with both hands (fingers pointing forward) and push yourself up so your arms are fully extended (but not locked). Bend your arms, lowering yourself back to the starting position.

Squats with shoulder press: Stand with your feet hip width apart, knees slightly bent. Keep your back straight. Hold 3kg dumbbells at shoulder height, palms facing forward. Bend your knees to 90 degrees and allow your body to lean forward slightly until it is at right angles to your thighs. Take care to keep your heels on the floor. As you squat down, push the dumbbells above your head, then return to the starting position.

Plyometric lunges: Place one foot forward, about one stride-length away from the back foot. Keep your hips facing forward and your arms by your sides. Keep your body upright and abdominals firm. Bend your knees to bring your front knee directly over your front ankle. Put your weight onto the heel of your front foot to work the buttock muscles effectively. Return to the starting position.

Alternate lunges: As above, changing the leading foot each time you step forward.

Plyometric jump lunges: As above, but instead of going back to the starting position, perform a small jump into the air as you change legs and go straight into another lunge.

Abdominal crunches: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and hands by your ears. Curl your shoulders forward, keeping your lower back on the floor. Tense the abdominals, exhaling to lift and inhaling to lower. Keep a space the size of an apple under your chin to ensure your neck stays in line with your spine. Each repetition should take 4-5 seconds.

For further fitness advice, visit

Always consult your GP before embarking on a new fitness routine.

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