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Q&A: Exercise and Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis, called the “silent thief” of bone, gradually makes bones porous and prone to fracture. Of the 44 million Americans affected by this disease, 80 percent are women. By 2010, the number of women 50 and older with osteoporosis or the low bone mass that precedes it should reach 35 million – a  14 percent increase in eight years! 

Fortunately, it’s not too late to change these statistics. Incorporating exercise into your weekly routine can minimize your risks of developing osteoporosis  or help you manage the disease, says Cleveland Clinic exercise physiologist Katie Koch, MS, a member of the Preventive Medicine wellness team.

Here, she answers 5 common questions about exercise and osteoporosis:

Q: How are osteoporosis and exercise related?

A: Osteoporosis is linked to a lack of exercise. Exercise that compresses, or “loads,” your bones increases the formation of new bone cells and improves overall bone strength. Without significant loading, your bones can become porous and weak, and fracture risks increase. Weight-bearing exercises load the bones by forcing us to move against gravity or resistance. They can be high-impact or low-impact.

Q: What kinds of exercise are considered weight-bearing?

A: High-impact exercises that help build bone strength when bone density is normal include running/jogging, high-impact aerobics, repetitive stair climbing, dancing, and sports such as tennis or basketball. Low-impact exercises are safer if you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or low bone mass and include walking and low-impact aerobics or using an elliptical trainer or stair-stepping machine.

Q: Do ‘cardio’ exercises help your bones?

A: All the exercises mentioned above will help your bones and get your heart pumping for cardiovascular health. However, while swimming and biking are excellent for heart health and fitness, they are not weight-bearing exercises, so they will yield little benefit for your bones.

Q: If all you do is walk or run, is that enough to protect your bones?

A: Walking and running strengthen bone mineral density in your lower extremities and reduce risks of fracture in your hip, spine and thigh bone (femur). That’s important, but they do nothing to strengthen bones in your upper extremities that are prone to fracture, such as your wrist and forearm. Strength training that targets the upper extremities can help

Q: Is strength training considered weight-bearing exercise?

A: Strength training is a non-impact form of weight-bearing exercise because it involves bone loading. It is critical if you have arthritis or other problems that limit your ability to do the weight-bearing exercises listed above. Start off with machine weights if you’re a beginner.

Lifting heavier weights with fewer repetitions is better than lifting lighter weights with more repetitions. Start with one to two sets of 10 to 12 repetitions, and work until your muscles are fatigued, increasing weight as you go. Pay attention to your breathing and technique for maximal benefit with minimal risk. If you are unfamiliar with resistance training, ask a fitness professional for help before you start.

When starting a new exercise program, always check with your doctor to establish personal safety guidelines and restrictions.

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Be Well™ eNews articles are written for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as medical advice. They have not been designed to replace a physician's assessment and medical judgment. Always consult with your physician first about anything related to your personal health.


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