Does exercise make bones stronger?

Yes. Many studies have shown that people who are physically fit have higher bone mineral density (BMD) and stronger bones than those who are inactive.

Can exercising early in life help prevent osteoporosis when a person is older?

Osteoporosis can be preventable. Bone is a living tissue that is continually replaced. Exercise, sex, heredity, race, diet, and hormone levels all play a role in keeping bones healthy throughout life.

Can exercise help someone who already has osteoporosis?

Because of their weak bones, people with osteoporosis are at risk of being badly hurt when they fall. Falls increase the risk of fracturing the hip, wrist, spine, and other parts of the body. These broken bones can be disastrous. Twenty-five percent of those who have a hip fracture die within six months, and half will have serious problems getting around.

Regular exercise can reduce the risk of falls by about 25 percent and the incidence of hip fractures by 5 percent. For people with osteoporosis, the main goals of physical activity should be to prevent falls by improving general health, balance, muscle strength, posture, and stability.

What kinds of exercises are best for someone with osteoporosis?

Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program, especially if you have heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure.

  • In general, exercise should be weight-bearing to help bone mass and strength. "Weight-bearing" means moving against gravity while remaining upright.
  • Work with a physical therapist to develop a safe exercise plan.
  • Start slowly. If you have fractures in the spine because of osteoporosis, do not do activities in which you reach down, bend forward, make rapid twisting motions, or do any heavy lifting or anything else that increases the chances of a fall.
  • Do not do high-impact exercises if you have broken a bone due to osteoporosis, are at risk of breaking a bone, are frail, or fall easily.

High-impact weight-bearing exercises can help rebuild lost bone. These include:

  • Dancing
  • High-impact aerobics
  • Hiking
  • Jogging/running
  • Jumping rope
  • Stair climbing
  • Tennis
  • Squash

Low-impact weight-bearing exercises can help prevent further bone loss. These include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Elliptical training machines
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Weight-lifting machines
  • Exercises that use your own body weight
  • Functional movements, such as standing and rising up on your toes
  • Yoga and Pilates. Talk to a physical therapist before starting either of these activities. Positions that require bending forward could increase the chance of breaking a bone in the spine.
  • T'ai chi. Low-velocity movement and emphasis on posture help reduce loads on the joints of the lower limbs, especially the knees and ankles. T'ai chi helps relax muscles and improve endurance, balance, flexibility, and coordination. All help reduce the chance of falling.

What are some guidelines for exercising if I have osteoporosis?

  • Some form of weight-bearing exercise should be done for 30 minutes most days of the week. You can break up your exercise into several sessions over the course of a day if it can't be done all at once.
  • If it's not possible to exercise on a certain day, take the stairs or park farther away from your workplace or stores so that you'll have farther to walk.
  • Muscle-strengthening exercise should be done two to three times per week. Try to do one exercise for each major muscle group, including the back, shoulders, arms, chest, abdomen, hips, and legs. For each exercise, use a weight that is heavy enough to allow for only 8 to 10 repetitions. Rest 30 seconds between sets. If you already have osteoporosis or are frail, aim for 10 to 15 repetitions with lighter weights.
  • If you don’t have a lot of time for exercise, do small amounts at a time or just one body area per day (for example, legs on Monday, arms on Tuesday, etc.).
  • Balance, posture, and functional exercises can be done every day, depending on your situation. If you have fallen or lose your balance easily, focus on balance. If your shoulders are getting rounded, focus on posture. If you have trouble climbing stairs or getting up from the bed or a couch, do more functional exercises.
  • Make sure that your exercise does not cause any pain.
  • Do a variety of exercises. Don’t rely on a single activity for both cardiovascular (heart) health and osteoporosis prevention.
  • Pick activities you enjoy doing. This makes it easier to stick with an exercise program.

What results can I expect from doing weight-bearing exercises for osteoporosis?

Benefits include:

  • Building greater bone density, or stopping further bone loss. The greatest effects will be seen on those bones that are stressed the most by a particular exercise. For example: in the hands for those who play tennis, the legs for runners, and the spinal column for rowers.
  • Greater muscle strength and coordination, which helps prevent falls
  • An overall sense of well-being
  • A decrease in heart disease and risk of diabetes
  • An improvement in depression

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