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A Guide to Osteoporosis and Exercise

4 min read

Matthew Delmonico


by Dr. Matthew Delmonico

Woman exercising and lifting weights

Did you know that over 10.2 million Americans aged 50 years and older have osteoporosis? The disease is more prevalent in women than men, and its risks increase after menopause. This means that women over 45 years of age have an increased risk of becoming victims of osteoporosis, which can lead to severe bone, joint, and muscle pain.

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In the age of digital media, the habit of regular exercise might seem like a hassle to some people, but it offers remarkable benefits and outcomes to a person’s physical and mental well-being.

Engaging in regular moderate exercise or physical activity not only can help maintain bone health and preserve bone mineral density but also has been shown to increase muscle strength, coordination, and balance, ultimately reducing the risk of falls and preventing osteoporosis by slowing down bone loss.

This article provides detailed guidance on how exercise can prevent or treat osteoporosis at any age. Moreover, we will discuss the top 4 effective and easy exercises that can prevent or help manage osteoporosis.

What Is Osteoporosis and How Does It Occur?

Osteoporosis is a bone disorder that commonly develops as we age. Our bones, in their prime, are strong and dense and store nearly 99% of our calcium, which helps maintain bone strength and support body weight. However, with age, the ability of bones to regrow and maintain their density naturally decreases, which may progress to osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis results in decreased bone mass and bone mineral density, causing the bones to weaken, thereby reducing bone strength and increasing the risk of fractures (broken bones).

In addition, the body’s calcium requirement increases with age. If calcium intake is insufficient, osteoporosis may result from calcium deficiency.

The most common symptoms of osteoporosis include:

  • Lower back or neck pain
  • Posture changes (a stooped posture or curved upper back).
  • Loss of height (commonly one inch or more).
  • Knee pain
  • Frequent fractures from falls

The Effects of Regular Exercise on Osteoporosis

The beneficial effects of regular exercise on osteoporosis are many. They include reducing bone loss, improving mobility, and enhancing bone density and muscle strength to reduce fracture risks and improve physical fitness. Let’s take a closer look at some of these benefits:

Strengthens Bones

Smiling senior couple jogging in the park

It is true that age reduces bone growth and density. But certain weight-bearing exercises, like jogging and walking, help stimulate growth and improve the density of your bones.

Reduces Bone Loss

Regular exercise reduces the rate of bone loss and preserves bone density. With regular resistance or weight-bearing exercises, like running, walking, or lifting weights, our bones encounter mechanical stress. This stress prompts bone-forming cells to produce new bone tissue, ultimately enhancing bone density and strength and reducing bone loss.

Improves Muscle Strength

Engaging in exercises like resistance training helps increase muscle mass and strength. Strong muscles provide support to the bones, which reduces the risks of falls and fractures.

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Increases Balance and Coordination

Various balance exercises, like side leg raises, wall push-ups, single-leg stands, standing march, stretching, yoga, and others, help increase balance and coordination, reducing the chances of falls and injuries. These exercises can also help counteract bone loss, fractures, and weakening of the bones.

Pain Management

Regular exercise helps improve joint flexibility and reduce muscle tension, which in turn can alleviate discomfort and pain caused by osteoporosis.

What Exercises Should You Avoid if You Have Osteoporosis?

Although exercise helps prevent and treat osteoporosis, if you have already been diagnosed with the disorder, there are certain exercises to avoid.

This is because in osteoporosis, your bones are weak and prone to injuries. Therefore, it is crucial to avoid exercises that subject the bones to additional or sudden loads.

The types of exercises to avoid in osteoporosis include:

  • Exercises that involve forceful bending and twisting movements.
  • Exercises or activities that involve jerky or rapid movements, like jumping, running, or others. It is preferable to choose exercises characterized by slow and controlled movements.

Top 4 Exercises That Help Prevent and Treat Osteoporosis

Before starting any new exercise, consult your healthcare provider to confirm that the physical activity is safe for you based on your overall health condition and medical history. After you receive a green light, try incorporating some of the following exercises:

1. Strength Training Exercises

Strength training exercises involve certain weight-lifting activities to improve bone density and strengthen your muscles, tendons, and bones. Examples of exercises you can do include lifting free weights like barbells or dumbbells, using elastic bands, or using weight training machines.

If you are just starting out, start with a light weight and gradually increase the weight and resistance as your strength develops.  Follow the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines for strength exercise training for adults.

2. Weight-Bearing Aerobic Exercises

In weight-bearing aerobic exercises, your bones support your body weight as you do the exercise in your legs. These exercises directly target the bones of the lower body, including the legs, hips, and lower spine.

Certain weight-bearing exercises also help slow down bone loss and improve blood flow, strength, flexibility, and balance. Examples include dancing, gardening, walking, stair climbing, using elliptical training machines, or performing low-impact aerobics.

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3. Stability and Balance Exercises

Preventing falls is crucial in people with osteoporosis as their bones are vulnerable to injuries, often leading to fractures from even minor falls.

Stability and balance exercises particularly work on improving balance and enhancing stability, reducing the risk of falls and fractures.

Examples of stability and balance exercises include bodyweight squats, seated leg raises, calf raises, single-leg raises, knee lifts, side lunges, wall push-ups, lateral thigh lifts, or planks.

4. Flexibility Exercises

Flexibility exercises involve moving your joints to their full range of motion, which helps keep your muscles strong and functional. The best flexibility exercise is stretching, and the most safe and effective way to incorporate stretching into your exercise routine is by performing a 10-minute stretch at the end of your exercise session. Perform stretches gently and slowly to the point of mild muscle discomfort without any rapid, jerky movements, bouncing, or bending at the waist.

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