Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on May 30, 2020
How Exercise Helps Brittle Bones
Being active is powerful medicine for people with osteoporosis. It helps slow bone loss and builds stronger muscles to support you so you're less likely to fall or break a bone. But not just any workout will do. If you're able, you should do things that strengthen your muscles and mix in some weight-bearing exercises.
What Is Weight-Bearing Exercise?
This just means your feet and legs support you as you move. As gravity puts stress on your bones, it causes new bone tissue to form and makes bones stronger. These exercises include any you do while standing. If you have severe osteoporosis or have already had a broken bone or fracture, some activities may be risky. Talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise to make sure it’s right for you.
Work With Weights
This will build bone and strengthen your muscles at the same time. Aim to focus on 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 the right form.
Dance Your Way to Healthier Bones
This is a well-rounded workout: It gets your heart going and keeps you on your feet, making your heart, muscles, and bones stronger. And if you dance with a partner and need to remember specific steps and moves, it’s also a workout for your brain.
Tend Your Garden
When you carry a watering can, pick up debris, and do other yard work, you build strength. These activities aren't right for everyone with osteoporosis, though. Most spine fractures happen while you’re bending forward. If you enjoy gardening, do your best to keep your spine straight and don’t twist at your waist. Also, be careful how you lift things, and don’t try to carry anything too heavy.
If you're able to walk at a brisk pace -- even for short periods -- your bones will benefit, and it’s good for your heart, too. Three short walks a day are as good as one long one. If you're worried about sidewalk cracks or other things that might make you trip, a treadmill would work.
Join an Aerobics Class
High-impact classes will strengthen bones that can handle the force. Low-impact ones are a safer choice for people with severe osteoporosis. And no-impact classes, like water aerobics, may be best if you’ve already had a fracture.
What About Swimming?
It builds muscle and gives your heart and lungs a great workout. But because the water holds you up, it doesn’t make your bones stronger. Swimming can be a good option when severe osteoporosis or arthritis makes weight-bearing exercise too risky.
Get Flexible With Yoga
Don't be fooled by its gentle nature. Besides helping with your posture and flexibility, it makes your bones stronger, too. But some poses, especially forward bends, may not be suitable for people with osteoporosis. Ask your doctor or physical therapist if you should skip anything.
Better Your Balance
It’s important to be steady on your feet when you have osteoporosis so you can lower your risk of falls and breaks. Tai chi can help with this, and it can strengthen your legs, too. A physical therapist can show you other exercises to help with balance.
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.
Get Into the Routine
You can do your bones a favor by making small changes to everyday life. Walk instead of drive, choose the farthest parking spot at the mall, or take the stairs instead of the elevator. Check with your doctor if you have any questions about which activities are safe for you.
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American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Healthy Bones at Every Age," "Exercise and Bone Health," "Weightbearing Exercise for Women and Girls."
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.