The Best Exercises for Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis—weakening of bone—is hardly inevitably as you age. Here are the best exercises you can do to help prevent osteoporosis.

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Did your parents or teachers ever tell you to drink milk to strengthen your bones as a kid? Maybe they were onto something. Calcium and vitamin D are important building blocks of bones, but if you really want to keep your bones strong and stave off osteoporosis—low bone density—you should be exercising. Some of the best exercises for osteoporosis are weight-bearing exercises.

Best exercises for osteoporosisStress your bones to make them stronger and help prevent osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is estimated to affect about 44 million men and women over the age of 50 in the United States, making it a major public health concern. As you get older, you might be tempted to exercise less, thinking that the less you move the less chances there to hurt yourself. You do that, though, and you’re doing yourself—and your bones—a disservice. Staying active will help you to maintain your balance, strength, and reduce the risk for losing bone density.

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease affecting the health of your bones. It results in the loss of bone or too little bone being made, leading to weakened bones that are more easily fractured. Factors that lead to an increased risk for developing osteoporosis include aging, being female, low body weight, changes in hormone production such as menopause, smoking, dietary factors, and certain medications.

One common cause is a calcium deficiency. Calcium is stored within the bones and if your diet is inadequate in calcium your body will break down your bones to retrieve the calcium needed to perform other functions in the body, leaving your bones weaker.

Because it is the slow loss of bones overtime, most people go years without knowing that they are developing osteoporosis. Typically, people find out that they have it through incidental findings such as a fall that results in a broken bone or if they had a X-ray or CT scan for other medical reasons.

Osteoporosis of the Spine

Osteoporosis is dangerous when it affects any part of your body, but it is especially harmful when the bones of the spine start to weaken. The spine is responsible for protecting your spinal cord and nerves, structural support, balance, flexibility and mobility.

When the vertebrae of your spine weaken, it is easier for compression fractures to occur. A compression fracture is the collapsing of a backbone or backbones, which can lead to chronic pain, deformity, and even loss of height. Your spine supports all of your movements and since it also protects your spinal cord, damage to your vertebrae puts you at risk for nerve damage.

“In a person with osteoporosis, something as small as a missed step can result in a vertebral compression fracture,” says William Austin, MD, a fifth-year orthopedic surgery resident with Michigan State University. “Over time, multiple compression fractures can result in deformity such as increased kyphosis or “hunched back.” In extreme cases, this “hunched back” deformity can result in restrictive lung disease due to the decreased volume available for lung expansion. Not only is the spine at risk, but osteoporosis also places patients at significantly increased risk for shoulder, wrist, and hip fractures.”

Osteoporosis Treatment and Prevention: Weight-bearing Exercises

There are multiple treatment options for osteoporosis including:

  • Calcium and vitamin D supplements
  • Exercise
  • Medication
  • Surgery to stabilize fractures if necessary

The best way to reduce the risk of osteoporosis related fractures and protect bone health is to begin taking action to build and maintain your bone density.

Dr. Austin explains, “While not entirely preventable, the risk of developing osteoporosis can be decreased by maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle. Smoking, sedentary lifestyle, and excessive alcohol intake are some modifiable risk factors that should be avoided to decrease the chance of developing osteoporosis, especially in high risk individuals such as post-menopausal women.”

Importance of Weight-bearing Exercises for Osteoporosis

Weight-bearing exercises help with the maintenance of strong bones because it triggers the production of hormones that stimulate bone production. Bone density is typically highest in younger individuals, especially in those who move more and participate in sports and other types of physical activity. As you age your bones start to lose density, but you can slow this process with weight-bearing exercises. Studies suggest that exercise helps to increase bone density by initiating pathways in the body that lead to bone production.

Dr Austin explains “Weight-bearing exercises are an excellent way to improve bone density. Bones remodel following Wolff’s Law, which states that bones adapt according to the stresses placed upon them. If you consistently perform weight bearing exercise, your bones will remodel in a way that improves their tolerance to that stress resulting in increased bone density and improved resistance to fracture.”

The Best Exercises For Osteoporosis

Both weight-bearing aerobic exercises and resistance training are good for your bone health. Examples of weight-bearing exercises include:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Climbing stairs
  • Jumping rope
  • Hiking
  • Dancing
  • Pilates & yoga

…and more. Resistance training exercises—especially those that incorporate weights—also help to strengthen your bones by increasing the load placed on your bones and increasing muscle strength that supports good posture.  Pilates and yoga are especially helpful because you are using your body resistance to build muscle stamina and coordination while loading the bones without overwhelming the joints.

Other exercises, such as swimming and cycling, are still good for your cardiovascular health, but without putting weight on your bones, the exercises will not stimulate bone growth.

To maximize your bone health, consistently include weight bearing activities into your daily routine to keep your bones strong and reduce your risk of fractures. The best way to strengthen them through weight bearing exercises is to be consistent and include a variety of exercises. When done in this controlled way your bones adapt to the different types of stress being placed on them, keeping you safer and healthier for longer.

 

Updated on: 09/08/20
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Isador H. Lieberman, MD, MBA, FRCSC
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