Long-term effects of exercise on the skeletal system

Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

Just as with the circulatory, nervous, digestive, muscular and respiratory systems, the human skeletal system is affected by age.

However, bone calcium can be preserved by smart lifestyle choices: reducing or eliminating smoking and liquor consumption; adhering to a nutritious diet with appropriate amounts of calcium; and exercising regularly.

Function of the Skeletal System

The skeletal system encompasses connective tissue (ligaments), approximately 206 bones, and 300 joints of the body. Ligaments connect bones to bones at joints and function as joint stabilisers. The skeletal system has five key functions: it (1) protects vital internal organs, (2) supports the muscles and tissues of the body, (3) serves as an instruments movement of the joints initiated by muscles, (4) creates blood cells, and (5) stores energy.

Bones Affected by Age

Bone loss tends to affect women more than men, especially women in their 50s and beyond who are post-menopausal (no longer menstruating). Women can lose as much as 20 per cent of their bone mass in the decade after menopause. Women who walk a mile a day have four to seven more years of bone in reserve than women who don't.

Exercise Helps Bones Develop

Weight-bearing exercises are usually performed in a standing position against gravity and include aerobic dancing, running or jogging, climbing stairs, rope jumping, brisk walking or tennis. Resistance training is also an excellent way to strengthen muscles, joints and the skeletal system. The younger you are when you begin performing weight-bearing and resistance exercises, the stronger and more dense your bones will be as you age.

Other Potential Benefits of Exercise

Balance exercises protect the skeletal system indirectly, as it greatly reduces the risk of falling and suffering broken bones or dislocated joints. This is an especially important benefit for women, as the vast majority (80 per cent) of people diagnosed with thinning bones (osteopenia) and porous bones (osteoporosis) are female.

Exercise-Related Injuries

Muscular soreness is a common side effect of exercise or participation in team sports. Although fun and beneficial to your health, there are many short-term and long-term risks associated with exercise. It's smart to know the signs of injury that may require medical intervention. Joints commonly injured from exercise are the knee, shoulder, wrist, elbow, ankle. Swelling, bruising (discolouration), sharp sudden pain, a sizeable decrease in joint range of motion, a dull aching pain or tenderness that lasts more than a week, or a marked loss of strength in a muscle or joint means it's time to see your doctor.

Expert Insight

Failure to perform a proper warm-up before exercise contributes to injuries. Light exercise for seven to 10 minutes, followed by gentle range of motion and flexibility (stretching) exercises will improve performance and prepare muscles, ligaments and joints for more rigorous movements.


Ask your doctor exactly what types of exercises you can safely do to preserve bone and to strengthen your back and hips. Your doctor may also prescribe bone-sparing medication such as Fosamax, Reclast or Boniva, as exercise alone cannot cure nor prevent osteoporosis.