Exercises for Osteoporosis–My Favorite Topic!

As a physical therapist, it’s natural that I would promote exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. This isn’t because I really like exercise (which I do), but because exercise affects every system of the body in a positive way—it is truly the fountain of youth! In this post, our focus will be on exercising to build and maintain bone, and assist people with osteoporosis. Exercise can build up the bone bank that I have spoken of in previous posts, but it can also assist people that have been diagnosed with osteoporosis in preventing disease progression and fractures.

How does exercise impact adolescent bone health?

Bone needs certain forces to remodel and grow; exercise, movement and weight-bearing all provide those forces. As children, we need a variety of activities to exert force on our bones for them to develop and create adequate mass. This happens through muscle contraction and weight-bearing. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that for adequate bone health, children should participate in impact activities, gymnastics, plyometrics or jumping, resistance training, and participation in aerobic sports (those that involve running or jumping) at high intensities, three times per week at a minimum for at least 10 minutes, two times per day.

How can I make sure my kids develop healthy bones?

Wow! All that information could make a busy parent give up! One more thing you need to have your kids do?!?! Let’s look at this realistically. Turn off the phones, the iPad, the TV, and kick your kids outside! If children are left to their own devices, they will move! They will ride bikes, run, play with balls, jump rope, jump on trampolines, roller skate, skateboard, sled, ice skate etc., etc. Why will they do this? Because it feels good and it’s fun! Buy outdoor toys that promote activity, like jump ropes, basketballs, kickballs, bikes, and sleds; equipment doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective. Get your child moving as much as possible for bone health, heart health, psychological health and just for fun! If they stop moving (usually due to the pull of the screens), you may have to take a stand and get them moving via family hikes, walks or bike rides.

Des Moines University Clinic Health Topics | Exercise and Osteoporosis

During adolescence, movement and activity can drop, so exercise is particularly important in this age group—and especially for girls—because adolescence is when the bone bank gets its greatest deposits. In adolescents, the combination of resistance exercise (weightlifting) and high impact weight-bearing (running, jumping, dance, high impact aerobics) is especially good at building the bone bank. 

Unfortunately, adolescents might not spontaneously go outside and play or move around; more structure might be needed. Getting adolescents to weightlift, run, play basketball or dance may require parental encouragement and participation. If your child isn’t a rock star of an athlete,  most communities have a wide variety of classes, groups and teams for children and families to participate in. Many schools have elite sports teams that don’t include most of the school population, the average athlete. Don’t discount the importance of community, fun, and team building for the non-elite athlete.

Active adults and bone health

For adults, research guides us to resistance exercise and weight-bearing exercises such as jumping or running to build bone mass. Bone mass gains in the adult or premenopausal woman tend to be small; building bone mass is difficult for the middle-aged or post-menopausal women. After menopause, a combination of resistance training and weight-bearing impact exercise prevents bone loss but will not build bone.

Exercises for osteoporosis

Adult exercises for osteoporosis focus on four major areas: building bone mass, slowing the decline of bone mineral density, preventing fractures, and maintaining muscle mass and strength. As a physical therapist who treats patients with osteoporosis, I would recommend running, high-impact aerobics, tennis or dance and weightlifting as the best exercises for preventing bone loss. I would also recommend walking, cycling, yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, and swimming. These suggestions focus on preventing fractures and maintaining muscle mass and strength. In fact, profession organizations like the National Osteoporosis Foundation (U.S.), the National Osteoporosis Guideline Group (Britain) and Scientific Advisory Council Osteoporosis (Canada), use guidelines of regular weight-bearing exercise (walking), fall-prevention strategies (balance activities) muscle strengthening, resistance exercise, core stability training as suggestions for exercises. Although high-impact activities may be osteogenic, they also may be unattainable for many people for physical reasons or simply a lack of interest. Other exercises may not build bone, but they do allow the ability to build strength, coordination, and balance.

Des Moines University Clinic Health Topics | Exercise and Osteoporosis

For individuals on certain pharmaceutical treatments for osteoporosis, bone mineral density increases with the addition of exercise. There also is emerging evidence of the positive effect of Tai chi and yoga on bone density. Historically, swimming has not been considered a positive exercise for bone health because it does not involve weight-bearing, but it is a sustained physical activity that can work to maintain muscle mass and strength; pool exercises can challenge balance for individuals afraid of falling. 

Bone health through our lifespan requires us to be active as children, adolescence, and young adults, focusing on running and resistance activities so the bone bank will increase. As adults, we need to continue exercising to prevent bone loss and keep a healthy, nutrient-dense diet. For those with osteoporosis, exercise is imperative to prevent continued bone loss, increase strength and balance, and prevent fractures.

If you are interested in learning what exercises would be appropriate for you to prevent bone loss consider making an appointment at the DMU physical therapy clinic. If you’d like to try yoga, Tai Chi or Pilates but don’t know where to go or how to start, the physical therapists at DMU offer special classes and programs to help you get stronger and stay healthy.

Disclaimer: This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Laura Covill, D.P.T., OCS, COMT

Laura Covill DPT, OCS is a professor and physical therapist in the Department of Physical Therapy at DMU. She has been post-menopausal for over 15 years and accepts the physical changes of lack of estrogen but isn’t exactly happy about them. Dr. Covill’s professional expertise is in musculoskeletal physical therapy, chronic pain, women’s health and the integration of yoga and physical therapy. She is a believer in using lifestyle medicine in conjunction with traditional medical management to achieve her best self.

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