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~Exercise for Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease that leads to fragile bones and increased likelihood of fractures.  According to a report by the National Osteoporosis Foundation, we currently have 9 million people with osteoporosis and 48 million with low bone mass (osteopenia).  They further predict that by 2020 there will be 10.7 million with osteoporosis and 58.2 million with low bone mass.  These are numbers that we should take steps now to change.  May is National Osteoporosis Awareness Month and this article will cover some ways you can help yourself get stronger bones through exercise.  

Bone loss is more common in women after age 50, but it can happen at younger ages and to men as well.  It is important to consult with your medical provider to see when it is appropriate to get bone mineral density testing and determine what exercise program is best for you. 

You are more at risk of osteoporosis or bone thinning (osteopenia) if any of the following apply to you:

  • Female
  • Caucasian or Asian
  • Low body weight
  • Small frame
  • Smoker
  • Take steroid medication
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Limited exercise
  • Limited intake of calcium
  • Loss of Height

While some of these factors cannot be changed (heredity, sex, race, body size), others you can (stop smoking, get enough calcium and vitamin D, exercise).  While any exercise is better than none, certain types of exercise are important for bone health.  These include weight bearing exercise, strength training, balance, and posture exercises. 

 Weight Bearing Exercises:   These include any exercise in which you bear weight on your legs or arms.  This stimulates your body to add bone and prevent bone loss.  Some of the best and easiest impact activities include walking, dancing, and stair climbing.  These are also good because they are easy to do and are less likely to cause issues with falling.  Activities such as jogging, running, or high impact aerobics are also weight bearing but may not be your best choice if you already have weak bones or are at risk of falling.  Tai Chi, a form of exercise that involves slow movements while standing, has also been shown to improve bone strength and, as a bonus, improves balance. While swimming and pool aerobics are great forms of overall exercise for joints and cardiovascular health, they don’t help improve bone strength.  The buoyancy of the water takes away some of the body’s weight and therefore the bones do not get enough impact to stimulate the bones.

Strength Training:  Lifting some form of weights as little as two times a week can help you decrease your risk of fracture.  Similar to weight bearing exercise, lifting some form of weight helps stimulate bone strength.   The areas that are most at risk include hips, spine, and wrists.  While most people do some form of exercise to help their lower body, they often neglect their upper body.  Make sure to lift heavy things with your arms.  This can be formal weight lifting/ exercise machines at the gym or lifting milk jugs or other items you already have around the house.

Balance Training: Fall prevention is very important for anyone, but especially if you have weak bones.  A fracture after a fall causes a lot of pain and disability. Many people have difficulty with balance without realizing it.  If you have had recent falls, then balance should be a priority for you. 

Posture Exercises: Poor posture puts more stress on your spine.  It also affects your balance.  Commonly, osteoporosis causes a more stooped posture and may lead to a “hump” at the base of your neck.  Exercises can be done to strengthen the muscles that help you stand straighter. 

Things to Avoid:  While exercise is good, there are some activities that should be avoided if you are at risk for osteoporosis.  Anyone wishing to do an  activity where falling is a risk (roller skating, skiing, horseback riding, etc….) or activities that have forward bending movements (yoga, rowing) should take precautions or find an alternative form of exercise. 

Physical Therapists are movement and exercise specialists that can help you determine the best exercises to help you prevent falls and strengthen your bones.  They will evaluate your posture, balance, and risk factors to help determine the best form of exercise for your needs. For further information about physical therapy and osteoporosis, check out this article



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