Best Exercise for Osteoporosis

It's never too late to start a bone-healthy exercise program, even if you already have osteoporosis.

You may worry that being active means you're more likely to fall and break a bone. But the opposite is true. A regular, properly designed exercise program may actually help prevent falls and fractures. That's because exercise strengthens bones and muscles and improves balance, coordination, and flexibility. That's key for people with osteoporosis.

Check With Your Doctor

Before you start a new workout routine, check with your doctor and physical therapist. They can tell you what's safe for your stage of osteoporosis, your fitness level, and your weight.

There is no single exercise plan that's best for everyone with osteoporosis. The routine you choose should be unique to you and based on your:

  • Fracture risk
  • Muscle strength
  • Range of motion
  • Level of physical activity
  • Fitness
  • Gait
  • Balance

Your doctor also will consider any other health problems that have a bearing on your ability to exercise, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease. She may refer you to a specially trained physical therapist who can teach you exercises that focus on body mechanics and posture, balance, resistance weights, and other techniques.

Weight-Bearing Exercises for Osteoporosis

Don't let the name fool you -- these types of workouts aren't about pumping iron. They are exercises you do on your feet so that your bones and muscles have to work against gravity to keep you upright. Your bones react to the weight on them by building themselves up and getting stronger.

There are two types of weight-bearing exercise: high-impact and low-impact. High-impact includes workouts like:

  • Brisk walking
  • Climbing stairs
  • Dancing
  • Hiking
  • Jogging
  • Jumping rope
  • Step aerobics
  • Tennis or other racquet sports
  • Yard work, like pushing a lawnmower or heavy gardening

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But be careful. High-impact weight-bearing exercises may not be safe for you if you have a higher chance of breaking a bone. Talk to your doctor about your workout routine. She may recommend that you focus on low-impact exercises that are less likely to cause fractures and still build up your bone density. These include:

  • Elliptical training machines
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Stair-step machines
  • Walking (either outside or on a treadmill machine)

If you're new to exercise or haven't worked out for a while, you should aim to gradually increase the amount you do until you get to 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise per day on most days of the week.

Strengthen Your Muscles

Working your muscles matters just as much as building up bone. It can slow the bone loss that happens with osteoporosis and may help prevent fall-related fractures.

These workouts can include basic moves such as standing and rising on your toes, lifting your own body weight with exercises like push-ups or squats, and using equipment such as:

  • Elastic exercise bands
  • Free weights
  • Weight machines

Add strength-training exercises to your workouts 2 to 3 days per week.

Nonimpact Exercises

These moves don't directly strengthen your bones. They can, though, improve your coordination, flexibility, and muscle strength. That will lower the chance that you'll fall and break a bone. You can do these every day.

Balance exercises such as Tai Chi can strengthen your leg muscles and help you stay steadier on your feet. Posture exercises can help you work against the "sloping" shoulders that can happen with osteoporosis and lower your chances of spine fractures.

Routines such as yoga and Pilates can improve strength, balance, and flexibility in people with osteoporosis. But some of the moves you do in these programs -- including forward-bending exercises -- can make you more likely to get a fracture. If you're interested in these workouts, talk with your doctor and ask your physical therapist to tell you the moves that are safe and those you should avoid.

Exercise can benefit almost everyone with osteoporosis. But remember it's only one part of a good treatment plan. Get plenty of calcium and vitamin D in your diet, stay at a healthy weight, and don't smoke or drink too much alcohol. You also may need osteoporosis medications to either build or maintain your bone density. Work with your doctor to figure out the best ways to stay healthy and strong.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on September 18, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Weightbearing Exercises for Women and Girls."

National Osteoporosis Foundation: "Prevention: Exercise for Healthy Bones," "Safe Movement," "Osteoporosis Exercise for Strong Bones."

American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: "How PM&R Physicians Use Exercise to Prevent and Treat Osteoporosis."

Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases-National Resource Center: "Exercise for Your Bone Health." 

American Osteopathic Association: "Exercise in Post-Menopausal Women."

Vondracek, S. Clinical Interventions in Aging, May 14, 2009.

Kessenich, C. Clinical Interventions in Aging, June 2007.  

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