Osteoporosis is a bone-weakening disorder that can often result in fractures in the hip and spine, not only affecting your mobility but, more importantly, your independence. It is one of the largest causes of disability to affect women as they age. Getting diagnosed with osteoporosis can often be a shock to many women who have been active all of their lives and it can mistakenly lead them to think that if they continue to exercise it will lead to a fracture, however, quite the opposite is true and in fact using your muscles helps protect your bones. Regular exercise can actually help.

There are many types of exercise that are designed to actually strengthen muscles and bones whilst other types will improve your balance. Obviously improving balance is important to prevent falls long term. 

Benefits of Exercise

Believe it or not, if you were never very active before being diagnosed with osteoporosis it’s never too late to start exercising. For postmenopausal women, regular physical activity can:

  • Increase muscular strength
  • Improve overall balance
  • Decrease the risk of fracturing a bone
  • Maintain or improve posture
  • Relieve or decrease pain

Unfortunately exercising with osteoporosis is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It depends on your previous exercise background, your overall health and the amount of bone loss you are experiencing. Once you have all the facts from your health care professional it is all about finding activities that you find the most enjoyable.  Remember the word “exercise” doesn’t have to mean a gym, it can be dancing, hiking, kayaking, walking your dog, you name it as long as you are moving and incorporating weight bearing, flexibility and core strength exercises you are “exercising!”

Before you start

It is always advisable to consult with your doctor before starting any exercise program for osteoporosis. Tests such as bone density measurement and a general fitness assessment may need to be performed before you choose a program.

Choosing the right form of exercise

There are four main categories of activities that are often recommended for people with osteoporosis, however because of the varying degrees of the disease and the subsequent risk of fracture your physical therapist or doctor will lead you to the correct exercises for you.

Types of Exercises Most Often Recommended

  • Strength training, especially those for the upper back
  • Weight-bearing aerobic activities
  • Flexibility 
  • Stabilizing, core strength and balance

Strength training

Strength training  should include the use of free weights, resistance bands or your own body weight. A whole body approach is preferential but pay particular attention to the spinal muscles that affect posture. Resistance training can also help maintain bone density. Avoid anything where you twist your spine, even when picking up weights or adjusting a machine. Ensure you adopt correct form at all times, it is often advisable to invest in a personal trainer even just for the first couple of sessions.

Weight-bearing aerobic activities

The definition of “weight-bearing” aerobic activity is an activity which challenges the heart and circulatory system and also involves your bones supporting your body weight i.e. walking, dancing, low-impact aerobics, elliptical training, stair-climbing. Whilst aerobic activities are extremely beneficial don’t rely on them being your sole form of exercise as anyone suffering with osteoporosis must work on strength, flexibility and balance. Swimming and cycling are obviously excellent forms of aerobic exercise, however, they don’t provide the weight-bearing load your bones need to slow mineral loss. If you do enjoy these activities by all means continue taking part in them for the benefits to be gained by your heart and lungs but please ensure you also add weight-bearing activities regularly to your regimen.

Flexibility exercises

Flexibility is often an extremely underestimated component of physical fitness. It is only when we age that we realize that having stiff joints, not being able to move as well as we would like and finding even simple tasks challenging could all be avoided if we stretched more.  Having a focused flexibility program is essential for anyone suffering with osteoporosis, however avoid stretches that flex your spine or cause you to bend at the waist. Ask your doctor which stretching exercises are best for you.

Stability and balance exercises

Preventing a fall is obviously the best way to be proactive about causing a break. Therefore core strengthening exercises are paramount for anyone suffering with osteoporosis. Core strength training will train your stabilizing muscles giving you balance and stability. 

If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, please avoid the following types of exercises:-

  • High-impact exercises. These include, jumping, running or jogging. Avoid any activity that involves movements that are rapid or jerky, slow, controlled movement are the way to go.
  • Bending and twisting. Avoid all exercises that involve bending forward at the waist or twisting from your waist, these type of movements can increase your risk of compression fractures in your spine. Other activities that may require you to bend or twist forcefully at the waist are golf, tennis, bowling and some yoga poses. 

Whatever activity you choose, choose one or many but not none. Don’t let fear of fractures keep you from having fun and being active.