Elliptical Vs. Treadmill: Which Is Better For Your Bones? - Save Our Bones

Exercising regularly is essential to building new bone. It’s a foundational part of the Osteoporosis Reversal Program and one of the most important activities Savers use to reduce the risk of falls and fractures.

As we’ve featured here before, running, jogging and walking are all excellent sources of bone- healthy weight-bearing exercise, but some days the weather just won’t allow these activities. If it’s too hot, too cold, or too wet to venture outdoors, you might find yourself with some competing indoor exercise options.

Today we’ll compare the bone health qualifications of treadmills and ellipticals, looking at the science behind how they impact your body. As it turns out, one is better than the other for bone health. Read on to find out which, and why.

What’s The Difference Between Ellipticals and Treadmills?

Both of these exercise machines aim to provide an aerobic workout that burns calories and improves cardiovascular and general health. Both accomplish those goals with flying colors, and are good choices for a workout. But there are some significant differences that you should take into account, especially with regard to bone health. Let’s have a look at what each machine has going for it.

Reasons To Use A Treadmill

Treadmills Are Tried And True – These machines have been around since the 19th century, and they’ve only gotten better and more efficient over time. Their use has been thoroughly researched over the years, so you know what you’re going to get out of this machine.

Natural Movements – You already know how to walk, jog and run, so you know how to move on a treadmill to get the most out of it. The simplicity of the treadmill is a major strength.

Treadmills Burn Calories Fast – When you’re running on a treadmill you’re burning about 400 calories per hour, but it varies with speed, of course. That high rate helps you to keep your calorie input/output balanced, which is good for maintaining a healthy weight and an active lifestyle.

There’s More Than One Way To Treadmill – Variation is important in a workout routine. If you get bored and give up on your exercise practice, or stop putting effort into it, then it’s not going to work. Treadmills have incredible versatility, offering different options for speed, incline, and training programs. Every run can be different, and that helps keep you engaged.

Weight Bearing Exercise – Running (or walking!) on a treadmill is a weight bearing exercise. As Savers know, weight bearing exercises trigger the addition of new material to your bones. The stress your muscles place on your bone to resist the pull of gravity creates bone growth.

Downsides Of Treadmills

Treadmills Are High Impact – The flip side of the weight-bearing benefits of treadmills is the impact on joints. If you have joint problems such that the impact from running causes you pain or discomfort, you might want to find a different form of weight bearing exercise to take its place. And remember that walking is also bone-healthy, but lower impact, and you can walk on a treadmill too.

Variations In Equipment – Not all treadmills are created equal. Sometimes you might find that the handles make running awkward, or that the width of the belt affects your stride. Or maybe the treadmill available to you doesn’t have some of the features to create a varied running experience. All of these factors might make you less likely to choose this machine.

Running Requires Effort – Because treadmill running is harder than using some other machines, many people are lured to easier workouts, or give up entirely. While it’s certainly better to find an alternative than to remain sedentary, consider the great benefits of treadmills before taking the easy way out.

Benefits Of Ellipticals

Ellipticals Feel Easier – Related to the last bullet point, ellipticals make it feel like you’re doing less work than you are. In exertion studies, people underestimate how hard they're working on an elliptical, so it might be a great machine to help you get more while feeling like you’re doing less.1

Ellipticals Are Low Impact – Because your feet never break contact with the pedals of the machine, your joints don’t have to absorb the force of your body striking the ground. This is great news for those who have achy joints.

Full Body Engagement – Ellipticals allow you to engage your entire body, both upper and lower, so you’re getting a workout that strengthens and conditions more than just your legs. You can even stride in reverse on an elliptical, allowing you to work yet another muscle group.

Downsides Of Ellipticals

Ellipticals Burn Fewer Calories – Compared to treadmills, ellipticals are slightly inferior at burning calories. However, the difference isn’t very significant, so this isn’t a good reason to rule out ellipticals entirely.

Less Engagement – Because they don’t offer the same array of options for varying your workout, ellipticals are less engaging, which may lead to shorter or skipped sessions. Even if an elliptical does have an incline feature, it won’t be as effective as on a treadmill.

Low Impact- This is the most important shortcoming of ellipticals, and should be the tiebreaker for Savers. While using an elliptical is a weight-bearing exercise, it lacks the impact necessary to stimulate new bone formation. The cardiovascular and calorie-burning benefits of ellipticals are certainly valuable for improving general health, and using an elliptical is better than remaining sedentary. But for those seeking to build bones, the treadmill has more to offer.

The Science Behind The Bone Strengthening Benefits Of The Treadmill

As always, the Save Institute goes a step beyond advising on living a healthier life: we provide the scientific evidence that supports and explains that advice. Let’s have a look at a few studies that examine the relationship between treadmill use and bone health.

The first study is titled “Effects of treadmill exercise on bone mass, bone metabolism, and calciotropic hormones in young growing rats.” Researchers at the Keio University School of Medicine in Tokyo separated 20 rats into four groups of five: A group that exercised for seven weeks, a group that exercised for 11 weeks, and two sedentary control groups, one for each time span. Before and after each exercise period, the scientists tested the rats bone mineral content at the tibia and fifth lumbar spine and measured femoral length and levels of bone markers and calciotropic hormones.

Here is what they found:

“The present study demonstrates that treadmill exercise stimulates bone formation and suppresses bone resorption, increases the serum 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D(3) level, and decreases the serum parathyroid hormone level, resulting in an increase in bone mass with stimulation of longitudinal bone growth, especially at weight-bearing sites, in young growing rats.”2

Another study from scientists in Japan examined how much running is the right amount for bone building. This research also used groups of rats, made to remain sedentary, to run 30 minutes a day five days a week, or to run 180 minutes a day five days a week. After eight weeks of following the routine, the researchers found that the rats who ran for only a moderate 30 minutes at a time had higher bone mineral density than both the sedentary group and the group who ran six times longer per day.3 Here’s an excerpt from the study:

“These findings suggest that short-duration exercise may increase BMD through suppression of bone resorption, whereas long-duration exercise may reduce BMD through suppression of bone formation. Exercising for short duration but not prolonged exercise is recommended to increase BMD of loaded long bones.”3

This is a great reminder that moderation is a good philosophy since too much of any one thing is never good. Variety is important, both in diet and exercise. Use your treadmill as a part of your workout routine, but be intentional how much you run. Don’t overdo it!

Walking On Your Treadmill Is Equally Valid And Healthful

This study brings us into the realm of research on humans, and opens up the inquiry to the benefits of walking on treadmills. Thai scientists tested bone turnover in a group of postmenopausal women who participated in a three-month program of supervised treadmill walking.

Three times a week for those three months, the eighteen women in the study walked on a treadmill at an intensity of 55-75% of maximal heart rate. Their bone turnover rate was determined by measurements taken before the experiment, at one week, and again after the three-month program. The measurements determined their levels of crosslinked C-terminal telopeptides of type 1 collagen and N-terminal propeptides of type 1 procollagen, both of which are biomarkers of bone formation.4

The test results showed that “bone resorption and formation markers were significantly increased after treadmill walking.”4 By stimulating increased bone turnover, these women built stronger, younger, more resilient bones. And that was measurable after only three months of the routine described above. That’s an incredible (and rigorously scientific) testament to the power you have to make lifestyle changes that will improve your bone health!

It’s Not Too Late To Start Using A Treadmill

The first couple of studies above were on young rats, but this study specifically looks at whether the impacts of treadmill exercise translate to older female rats. Australian scientists conducted studies similar to the rat studies above, but comparing young and old rats on a treadmill running program.

Even though the older rats were starting at a bone density disadvantage due to the effects of aging, both the young and the old saw gains in bone formation rates. Their bone improvement response to treadmill exercise was not dependent on age.5

That means that it’s not too late to start making a difference in the strength and quality of your bones. And you can do it by walking or running outside, or inside, using a treadmill. Remember that these effects do not extend in the same way to elliptical use, because ellipticals don’t offer the same weight bearing exertion. But much like swimming, ellipticals can be a valuable addition to a regimen that includes other forms of weight-bearing exercise.

Any safe and consistent exercise routine is going to offer you health benefits, but as these studies have shown, the details of that routine do make a difference. If you’d like to learn more about how different types of exercise can benefit your bones, and the quality of your life, check out the Osteoporosis Reversal Program. It goes even deeper into the science of bone health and provides a broad, holistic approach to building stronger, more resilient bones through exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle adjustments.

Stop Worrying About Your Bone Loss

Join thousands of Savers from around the world who have reversed or prevented their bone loss naturally and scientifically with the Osteoporosis Reversal Program.

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Till next time,


1 Batté AL, Darling J, Evans J, Lance LM, Olson EI, Pincivero DM. “Physiologic response to a prescribed rating of perceived exertion on an elliptical fitness cross-trainer.” J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2003 Sep; 43(3):300-5. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14625510

2 Iwamoto J, Shimamura C, Takeda T, Abe H, Ichimura S, Sato Y, Toyama Y. “Effects of treadmill exercise on bone mass, bone metabolism, and calciotropic hormones in young growing rats.” J Bone Miner Metab. 2004; 22(1):26-31. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14691683

3 Hagihara Y, Nakajima A, Fukuda S, Goto S, Iida H, Yamazaki M. “Running exercise for short duration increases bone mineral density of loaded long bones in young growing rats.” Tohoku J Exp Med. 2009 Oct; 219(2):139-43. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19776531

4 Wisaneeya Siwapituk, Wasuwat Kitisomprayoonkul. “Bone turnover increases during supervised treadmill walking in Thai postmenopausal women.” Osteoporosis and Sarcopenia. Volume 2, Issue 1, March 2016, Pages 41-44. Web: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405525516300012

5 Bennell KL, Khan KM, Warmington S, Forwood MR, Coleman BD, Bennett MB, Wark JD. “Age does not influence the bone response to treadmill exercise in female rats.” Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Dec;34(12):1958-65. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12471302

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Comments on this article are closed.

  1. Alice Townsend

    I failed to mention that I work out on my treadmill 30 minutes a day six days a week and I am almost 74 years old.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      That’s excellent! Keep up with it 🙂

  2. Alice Townsend

    Thanks for that message. I wanted to share my treadmill experience. I purchased a treadmill a few weeks ago. I am so glad I finally got one. It is a Horizon 7.0 AT with auto incline up to 15 levels. I love this one and recommend it. It was expensive but worth it.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      You’re welcome! And I thank you for sharing this with our community.

  3. margaret Sanders

    What about a whole vibration machine? I heard this is really good for building bones.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Studies have shown mixed results on vibration therapy for bone health and there are conflicting results. Some show increases in bone mineral density in elderly people, and other research uncovered no changes. However, vibration therapy has been shown to improve balance and prevent falls in older adults.

  4. Debbie

    Just discovered my sister in law has a treadmill and I will make it a point to work out a schedule with her to walk regularly. New England weather is not always amenable to outside walking. Unfortunately, I just had a knee replacement done and am wondering about that. I really like the idea of a rebounder which I am assuming is a personal trampoline. Not sure how that would work with the TKA but I will ask my surgeon. I do have osteoporosis and I am guessing it is getting worse because my PCP is referring me to an endocrinologist. Thanks for the positive suggestions from one and all.

  5. Stewart Harris (female)

    I have Osteoporosis and Osteopenia. Some areas are improving, stable but one hip has regressed some. Unfortunately, I also have Osteoarthritis (bone on bone) that hip. Since Osteoporosis requires high impact and Osteoarthritis requires low impact, how do I work on the osteoporosis and improve? I appreciate some of the articles and reviews and would be interested in any more suggestions. Thank you.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      You can do low-impact workouts and get results. Also, follow a pH-balanced diet, take all the Foundation Supplements, and avoid toxins. Plus ask your doctor to check your thyroid at least once a year.

  6. Elle

    Off topic.. I use a rebounder and love it. Age 66 with ms & im really fit. The rebounder works my whole body..

    • Donna

      I just got a rebounder about 2 weeks ago and LOVE LOVE LOVE it. I am 61 and for the first time in a long time (despite doing lots of walking and other exercises), my thighs and butt are shrinking and toning. There’s also something about bouncing that is childlike and fun, and makes me happy!

      • Beverly

        Me, too! I’m 74 and except for when my pup takes me for my walkies, rebounding is my go-to exercise. I typically do about 15 minutes daily. Donna is right–the simple act of jumping is fun! You’re also right in the link you posted below, Vivian. It can be repetitive. I vary my routine with hand weights and different moves–including jumping jacks. There are Youtube videos with great information on rebounders. My main suggestion would be to invest in good one if you decide to pursue rebounding. Thanks so much for all you do for the health community, Vivian!

  7. Patricia Cooper

    I have found that the elliptical, after only 5 minutes or so, causes my feet to go numb because I’m not lifting them up at all. I like the elliptical because they engage the arms better but if I want to go more than a few minutes, the treadmill works better for me.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      That’s interesting, Patricia. Sounds like you will be using the treadmill more. 🙂

  8. Maureen

    Why is nothing ever mentioned about a Rebounder or a Whole Body Vibrator? Both are excellent for building bone which is why NASA uses them for the astronauts.

  9. Mary

    Just a few thoughts: When I run on a treadmill, I am sure at all times of the footing. If part of treating osteoporosis includes fall risk reduction, then I think running outside might be more helpful for that. I have to be cognizant of sidewalk cracks, uneven pavement and careful foot placement, all things that I believe help my balance in general.
    And an additional note on ellipticals, I found out the hard way that this is the WORST piece of equipment to use if you have sacroiliac issues. Look it up, it’s been well documented.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Interesting, Mary. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and you make a very good point about variations in terrain honing your balance. Just make sure you’re confident in your ability to handle bumps and cracks before you head out!

  10. Donna

    Same question as Kat—–walking on street vs. treadmill for bones.

    Will you be posting answers to these questions?

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Please see below, Donna – I included a link to an article that goes into detail about the different types and locations of walking. 🙂

  11. Tadams

    I read this article with interest, but I have two concerns. I would like to see the pace that someone is running on a treadmill (or outdoors) to burn 400 calories a mile. I don’t know what it would take, but I would venture to say that if someone burns half that on a run, they are really moving. In addition to this, an elliptical is a weightbearing exercise. The term weightbearing means that one’s legs are supporting one’s body weight against gravity. Unless one is using a seated elliptical, one is weight bearing. An elliptical provides weight bearing exercise without impact. I stopped reading after the ‘elliptical is not weight bearing’ section because it made me question the accuracy of the rest of the article (I was willing to skip the 400 calories a mile).

    • Nancy

      Perhaps ladies you should revisit the article with a more open mind, the statement Vivian made is that although an elliptical machine provides weight bearing exercise, it is low impact, and therefore not a valuable form of exercise for bone formation/modelling. However it does provide useful cardiovascular benefits. In another post for which the link is given in response to a question, Vivian’s answer was that if the choice is between a rebounder and treadmill, then the rebounder is the better choice for bone health. There are so many exercise machines available that to do comparisons is quite tricky, and Vivian always provides information on her sources of research.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      I think it’s great that you’re thinking this through so thoroughly, Tadams and Kelli! Elliptical machines are low-impact and do not make use of the body’s weight against gravity the way high-impact, true weight-bearing exercise – like walking or running on a treadmill – does.

  12. Kat Toups, MD

    Thank you for this informative article! I’m going to save it to share with my patients.

    I’d like to know your opinion on the comparison between walking on a treadmill versus walking on a trail or street? Is there anything magical about the treadmill for building bones?

    My one thought is that the treadmill keeps you at a pretty constant pace.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      I am glad you’ll be sharing this information, Kat. If only more doctors would take some time to educate their patients!

      As far as walking on a treadmill vs. walking along the street, in nature, etc., some interesting research points to walking in nature as optimally beneficial. Of course, if the choice is between walking on a treadmill or not walking at all, the treadmill is the healthiest choice.

      For more about the research comparing different walking locations and their benefits, please click on this link:


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