Yoga is amazing, but it’s not enough if you want to give your bones the best fighting chance against loss and damage—for that, you’ll need to add some weight-bearing cardiovascular fitness to your routine (think jumping, running, walking, dancing, hiking, and aerobics). “It has to do with the impact of your feet on the ground and how that impact radiates up through your body,” says Simpson. “Bones are dynamic and alive. When you jog or jump, it puts pressure on the bone, which sends a message to the osteoblasts: ‘We need to get these bones stronger.’” That’s one reason astronauts lose an average of 1 to 2 percent of their bone mass per month while in outer space: No gravity equals no bone-building impact. Rubenstein Fazzio recommends adding three 30-minute sessions of high-impact cardio to your weekly workout routine, including brief bursts of vigorous effort. Running and aerobics are especially good, plus they’re heart-pumping moves, so you’ll enjoy the cardioprotective effects, too.
If 30 minutes is too much of a commitment, short spurts of jumping or jogging count, too. (Note: If you have osteoporosis, avoid jumping.) Research from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, showed that when women ages 25 to 50 jumped as high as possible 10 times, twice a day, for 16 weeks, their hip bone density increased by 0.5 percent on average. This may sound negligible, but the women who didn’t jump lost about 1.3 percent of their bone density on average during the same period. Study author Larry Tucker, PhD, recommends jumping as high as possible 10 to 20 times—resting for 30 seconds between jumps—twice a day, and spacing out the two sets by about eight hours to prevent your bones from becoming desensitized to the impact.
The final fitness key to bone fortification: strength training. Hoisting dumbbells or doing lunges or squats places a higher load on your skeleton, and bones respond by growing stronger. When choosing weights, don’t go too easy on yourself. “Pick a challenging weight that you can safely manage without strain, and do fewer repetitions,” advises Rubenstein Fazzio; that added stress is what sets bone-forming cells into action. Aim for two to three sets of 8 to 12 reps per body area, twice a week. To make it super simple, slip some of Rubenstein Fazzio’s favorite strength-training moves into your regular yoga practice (see “Pump up your practice”).
6 Ways to Add Weights to Your Yoga Practice
For efficient bone building (and fun!), add these exercises from Lori Rubenstein Fazzio, DPT, C-IAYT, into your yoga practice.
Pump Up Your Practice
Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and hold a 2- to 10-pound dumbbell in each hand, arms by your sides and inner wrists facing your hips. Gently squeeze your shoulder blades together to activate the muscles of your upper back. Maintain this as you exhale and bend your knees into a squat position, keeping your upper back mostly vertical and your knees tracking directly over the middle of your feet. Hold for 1–5 breaths. Straighten your knees and return to standing. (As your endurance builds, you can raise your arms out to your sides or in front of you as you lower into the squat). Repeat 2–3 times.
Dynamic Warrior III
Stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart, holding a 2- to 10-pound dumbbell in your right hand. Step your right foot back into a High Lunge, bending your left knee until it’s directly over your left ankle. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you hinge forward at your hips and begin to raise your right leg behind you. Lean forward until your trunk is parallel to the floor and your right leg is aligned directly behind you. Maintain a slight bend in your standing knee. Hold here and lift the weight in a rowing motion until it’s directly under your armpit. Slowly lower the weight toward the floor. Repeat for 10 reps. Return to High Lunge. Switch sides; complete 1–2 sets of 10 reps on each side.
See also Pose of the Week: Crescent Lunge
Plank Pose with Dumbbells
Come onto your hands and knees and grip 5- to 10-pound dumbbells. Your wrists should be neutral with no creases on either side—this enables your wrist extensors and flexors to contract, which helps strengthen your forearms more evenly and may put less pressure on your carpal tunnels. Stack your shoulders over your wrists. Either lift your knees a few inches off the floor or come into a full Plank Pose; hold for several breaths.
Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and hold a 2- to 10-pound dumbbell in each hand, arms by your sides. Gently squeeze your shoulder blades together to activate the muscles of your upper back. Slowly bend your elbows, rotating your palms upward as you bring the dumbbells in front of your chest. Slowly bend your elbows to lower your arms to your sides. Repeat for 8–12 reps.
Warrior III Tricep Extensions
With a 2- to 10-pound dumbbell in each hand, move into Warrior III (see instructions above). Bend your elbows 45 degrees, then reach toward the wall behind you with your palms facing your body. (If you struggle to maintain balance or feel strain, try the extensions from High Lunge, hinged slightly forward, instead.) Repeat for 2 sets of 10–15 reps.
Bridge Pose with Leg Extensions
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Gently press the backs of your upper arms into the floor. Isometrically pull your knees toward one another to activate the inner-thigh muscles, and then isometrically push your feet apart to activate your outer-thigh muscles. Continue pressing your upper arms against the floor as you lift your hips. Gently contract your abdominals and buttocks, and maintain a level pelvis as you exhale and lift one foot off the floor and straighten your knee. Repeat with the opposite leg, alternating 5 times per leg.