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How Exercise Helps Brittle Bones

Exercise is powerful medicine for people with osteoporosis. It helps reduce bone loss and builds stronger muscles to support you. The result is that you're less likely to have a fall or fracture. But not just any workout will do. If you're able, you should do both muscle strengthening and weight-bearing exercises.

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Why Weight-Bearing Exercise?

Weight-bearing exercise simply means your feet and legs are supporting you. As the force of gravity puts stress on your bones, they respond by building more cells. These exercises include any activities you do while standing. If you have severe osteoporosis or have already had a fracture, some activities may be risky. So before taking on any new exercise, talk to your doctor to make sure it's right for you.

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Build Muscle With Weights

Lifting weights or using resistance equipment at the gym will build bone and muscle mass at the same time. Aim to work each major muscle group twice a week with at least 1 day of rest in between. If you're new to lifting weights, check with your doctor first, and work with a trainer to learn proper form.

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Dance Your Way to Healthier Bones

Dancing is a well-rounded workout. It gets your pulse up and keeps you on your feet, strengthening your heart, muscles, and bones. Because you need to remember various steps and sequences, dancing is also a workout for the brain.

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Tend Your Garden

Carrying a watering can, picking up debris, and doing other yard work can help you build strength. These activities aren't right for everyone with osteoporosis. Most spine fractures occur while bending forward. If you enjoy gardening, try to keep your spine straight and avoid twisting at the waist.

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Walk Briskly

If you're able to walk at a quick pace -- even for short periods -- your bones will reap the benefits. Three short walks a day are as good as one long one. Brisk walking is also good for your heart health. If you're concerned about sidewalk cracks or other tripping hazards, a treadmill is a good alternative.

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Join an Aerobics Class

High-impact classes will strengthen bones that are stable enough to handle the force. Low-impact aerobics are a safer choice for people with more severe osteoporosis. And no-impact classes, such as water aerobics, may be the best choice for those who have already had a fracture

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What About Swimming?

Swimming builds muscle and gives your heart and lungs an excellent workout. But -- because the water is holding you up -- it doesn't strengthen the bones. Swimming is a good option when severe osteoporosis or arthritis makes weight-bearing exercise too risky.

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Get Flexible With Yoga

Don't be fooled by the gentle nature of yoga. Besides improving posture and flexibility, it strengthens bones. Some yoga poses, particularly forward-bends, may not be suitable for people with osteoporosis. Ask your doctor or physical therapist if there are positions you should skip.

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Improve Your Balance

Good balance is crucial when you have osteoporosis -- being steady on your feet will lower the risk of falls and breaks. Tai chi is one way to strengthen your legs and enhance your poise. A physical therapist can show you other exercises to improve balance.

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How Often Should You Exercise?

To boost bone health, do weight-bearing activities like walking or dancing at least 4 days a week. Aim for 30 minutes if you're able -- you can divide the time up into chunks of 10 or 15 minutes. At least twice a week, add in exercises that build muscle. And don't forget to stretch regularly.

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Get Into the Routine

You can also do your bones a favor by making small changes to your everyday routine. Whenever possible, walk instead of drive, choose the farthest parking spot at the mall, and take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you have any questions about what activities are safe for you, check with your doctor.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 08/24/2015 Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on August 24, 2015

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REFERENCES:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Healthy Bones at Every Age."
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Exercise and Bone Health."
AARP: "Let's Dance to Health."
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Weightbearing Exercise for Women and Girls."
Cleveland Clinic: "The Best Workouts for Osteoporosis."
National Osteoporosis Foundation: "Exercise for Strong Bones."
Yoga Journal, May/June 2001.

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on August 24, 2015

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.