If you have osteoporosis, you may think that it’s best to decrease your activity level to prevent fractures. However, physical activity and exercises that involve weight bearing are important and effective ways to maintain bone density while you age. Additionally, people with osteoporosis who exercise regularly actually have a reduced risk for falls and fractures. Plus, you get all the added benefits of regular exercise. These include: better coordination and balance, improved overall sense of well-being, decreased risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and less chance of depression.
Exercise Prescription for Osteoporosis
There’s no single exercise plan that works best for everyone with osteoporosis. The most safe and enjoyable activities will vary depending on your degree of bone loss, age, balance, overall health, preferences, and goals. Before starting an exercise program, consult with your physical therapist to develop an individualized, safe exercise plan.
The two types of exercise shown to be the most important for preserving bone density are weight-bearing aerobic activities and resistance training.
Weight Bearing Aerobic Activities
Weight-bearing exercise consists of activities you do on your feet. During these activities your muscles and bones support your weight against gravity to keep you upright. This type of exercise works directly to slow mineral loss and maintain bone density. As a side benefit, it also improves your cardiovascular health.
High-Impact vs. Low-Impact
Weight-bearing exercises can be lumped into two categories: high-impact and low-impact.
- Brisk walking
- Climbing stairs
- Jumping rope
- Step aerobics
- Racquet sports (tennis, racquetball, squash)
- Yard work (mowing the lawn, heavy gardening)
If you’re at higher risk for falls or breaking a bone, high-impact exercises may not be safe. That’s why consulting with your doctor or physical therapist prior to initiating a new exercise program is such an important step.
Ultimately, we may recommend that you focus on low-impact exercises. Even though they’re low-impact, they’ll still help you maintain bone density.
- Elliptical training machines
- Low-impact aerobics
- Stair-step machines
- Yoga – click HERE for guidance
- Pilates – click HERE for guidance
- Barre class
- Tai Chi
Because your muscles pull on the bones when you flex them, resistance exercises are also great for osteoporosis. They both strengthen your muscles and reduce your risk for fractures. Examples of resistance exercises include:
- Lifting weights
- Using elastic resistance bands
- Weight machines
- TRX workouts
Don’t worry if you don’t own any equipment or aren’t a member of a gym. Repeating functional movements is great resistance training. In these exercises, your body weight provides the resistance.
Standing Hip Abduction
Lay flat on the floor with a neutral spine. Push equally through flat feet to lift your hips and pelvis off the floor. Maintain a neutral spine as you lift. Use your glutes and upper hamstrings without pinching the buttocks. Knees should stay parallel. Repeat to fatigue.
Chair stands (sit-to-stand)
Start sitting, move to standing. Feel the quadriceps and gluteals working. For more challenge – don’t sit all the way down, hover above the chair. Repeat until the legs are fatigued.
Precautions with Osteoporosis
It’s important to mention, certain movements may not be suitable if you have osteoporosis. This is because these exercises can exert strong forces on relatively weakened bone.
Be careful with:
- Jerky, rapid movements that involve abrupt or explosive loading. Choose exercises with slow, controlled movements instead.
- Bending—bending over to touch your toes, bent-over rows, sit-ups
- Twisting—swinging a golf club or tennis racquet
Even if you have osteoporosis, it’s never too late to begin exercising to protect your bones against fracture. Physical therapists can work with you to develop a personalized exercise program based on your specific needs and fitness level.