Osteoporosis is a disease that reduces the strength and mass of bones, making them fragile and susceptible to fractures. Although it’s most common in middle-aged and older women, osteoporosis can affect both men and women of any age with most changes in bone density occurring at the spine, hips, and wrists.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about nine million Americans have osteoporosis and an estimated 48 million have low bone density. This means that, collectively, roughly 60 percent of adults age 50 and older are at risk.
Although there are many methods to treating the symptoms of osteoporosis, one of the most important is a regular exercise routine. Exercise not only improves bone strength, it also increases muscle strength, coordination, balance, and can lead to overall better health.
If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis and are interested in beginning an exercise routine, follow the tips below to get started.
Begin weight bearing exercises
Weight bearing exercise describes any activity you do on your feet that works your bones and muscles against gravity. Bone is living tissue that constantly breaks down and reforms. When you perform regular weight bearing exercises, your bone adapts to the impact of the weight and pull of muscle by building more cells and becoming stronger.
Weight bearing activities recommended to build strong bones include:
- Walking, jogging and hiking
- Weight training with free weights or machines
- Tennis, dancing, or step aerobics
- Jumping or bouncing on a trampoline
To sustain the bone strengthening benefit of weight bearing activity, you must increase the frequency, intensity, duration and amount of stress applied to bone over time.
Biking and swimming are excellent cardiovascular exercise choices. However, they are not weight bearing activities, and therefore are not as effective in adding bone mass. If musculoskeletal conditions prevent weight bearing exercise, then swimming and cycling are good alternatives.
Special considerations for women
As women are at a greater risk for osteoporosis than men, there are certain special considerations for women who begin an exercise routine:
- Women generally reach peak bone mass at an earlier age than men
- Peak bone mass tends to be lower in women than in men
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding can lower bone mass
- Women undergo rapid bone loss after menopause when levels of the bone strengthening hormone estrogen decrease.
For this reason, women should be especially cautious about exercising safely. Your doctor or a physical therapist can help you develop a workout routine that’s right for you.
Exercises to avoid with osteoporosis
Dynamic abdominal exercises like sit-ups and excessive forward bending place high levels of strain on your spine and may cause injury. Twisting and explosive movements should also be avoided unless they are supervised by a physical therapist or movement specialist.
In addition to exercise, healthy eating and other lifestyle changes can slow the bone loss that naturally occurs as we age.
Don't let fear of fractures keep you from having fun and being active. If you're not sure how healthy your bones are, talk to your doctor or consult a physical therapist. Before beginning any new workout routine, consult with your physician first.
Ryan Algeo, PT, MSPT is an outpatient physical therapist with Bryn Mawr Rehab Outpatient Network.