Osteoporosis and exercise are linked. This disease results in the loss of calcium and other minerals from a person’s bones, which makes the bones more fragile and susceptible to fracture. Women are more likely to have osteoporosis due to hormonal changes in menopause. Studies have shown that a nutritious diet including calcium-rich foods and regular exercise throughout a person’s life (including during childhood and adolescence) will reduce the risk of osteoporosis in later years. People with existing osteoporosis can also benefit from exercise as exercising regularly can reduce the rate of bone loss.
Benefits of exercise
Women who have been physically active throughout their lives generally have stronger bones than do women who have led more sedentary lives. But it’s never too late to start exercising. For postmenopausal women, regular physical activity can:
- Increase your muscle strength.
- Improve your balance.
- Make you better able to carry out daily tasks and activities.
- Maintain or improve your posture.
- Relieve or decrease pain.
- Improve your sense of wellbeing.
Deciding on an exercise programme
Exercising if you have osteoporosis means finding the safest, most enjoyable activities for you given your overall health and amount of bone loss. There’s no one-size-fits-all prescription. Always consult with your doctor, physiotherapist or health care professional before you decide on an exercise programme. Factors which need to be considered include:
- Your age.
- The severity of your osteoporosis.
- Your current medications.
- Your fitness and ability.
- Other medical conditions such as cardiovascular or pulmonary disease, arthritis, or neurological problems.
- Whether improving bone density or preventing falls is the main aim of your exercise programme.
- A combination of weight-bearing aerobic and muscle-building (resistance) exercises is best, together with specific balance exercises.
Ask your physiotherapist to recommend those exercises that are good for people with osteoporosis:
- Weight-bearing aerobic exercise including dancing.
- Resistance training using free weights such as dumbbells and barbells, elastic band resistance, body-weight resistance or weight-training machines.
- Exercises to improve posture, balance and body strength including yoga.
- Ideally, weekly physical activity should include something from all three groups.
Exercises that people with osteoporosis should avoid
A person with osteoporosis has weakened bones that are prone to fracturing. They should avoid activities such as:
- Exercises that involve repetitive, loaded forward flexion of the spine, such as abdominal sit-ups.
- Exercises that increase the risk of falling.
- Exercises that require sudden, forceful movement, unless introduced gradually as part of a progressive programme.
- Exercise that requires a forceful twisting motion, such as a golf swing, unless the person is accustomed to such movements.