Man experiencing ankle pain whilst out on a run

29 Feb 2024

The Role of Exercise in Musculoskeletal Health

The musculoskeletal system, comprising bones, muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments, provides structural support and enables movement. 

Like a complex machinery that requires regular maintenance, our musculoskeletal system benefits from exercise to maintain its strength and functionality. 

Exercise is not just a tool for achieving aesthetic goals; it is a foundational element for musculoskeletal wellbeing. Regular physical activity contributes to stronger muscles, denser bones, more flexible joints and improved balance, all of which are vital to carrying out daily activities and reducing the risk of injury.

Here we will explore the multifaceted role of exercise in promoting musculoskeletal health and preventing disorders:

  • Strength Training
    Engaging in strength training exercises such as lifting weights, using resistance bands or performing bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats fortifies muscle fibres. This form of exercise elevates muscular strength and endurance, enabling muscles to better support joints and reduce the burden on the skeletal system.
  • Impact on Bone Density
    Weight-bearing exercises including walking, running and resistance training, encourage the deposition of minerals into the bones, enhancing their density. For optimal bone health, exercises that place a moderate amount of stress on the bones are recommended, stimulating the cells responsible for bone formation.
  • Joint Flexibility and Range of Motion
    Exercise keeps joints supple and can help maintain or improve range of motion. Activities such as yoga, pilates and tai chi not only stretch and strengthen the muscles around the joints but also enhance joint fluid circulation, which is vital for joint lubrication and nutrient transport.
  • Counteracting Inflammation and Pain
    Physical activity can act as a natural pain reliever for musculoskeletal discomfort. Exercise prompts the body to produce endorphins that reduce our perception of pain. Regular movement may also help to reduce inflammation, a common culprit behind musculoskeletal pain.
  • Rehabilitation and Recovery
    Exercise plays a critical role in rehabilitation. Tailored physiotherapy and exercise programs can restore strength and flexibility, speeding up recovery whilst building the correct biomechanics to prevent future injuries.
  • Preventing Workplace-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders
    Incorporating exercise into one's daily routine can offset the risks of sedentary behaviour associated with many modern-day jobs. People who work at a desk can benefit from regular breaks for stretching and strengthening exercises, while those engaged in physically demanding jobs may require targeted exercises to counteract repetitive strain.

The key to incorporating exercise into your daily routine is to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts. The WHO recommends an adult should do:

  • at least 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity; 
  • at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity;
  • or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week.

If you are new to exercise, you might start with a 10-minute walk every day and gradually increase the time until you are walking for 30 minutes or more. Alternatively, you might start with a few simple stretches and gradually increase the number and difficulty of the stretches.

It is also important to find exercises that you enjoy and that fit into your lifestyle. For example, if you enjoy dancing you might try taking a dance class, or if you prefer to exercise alone you might try running or cycling.