Strong to the Bone! Exercise and Osteoporosis

02.21.2012 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

By Becky Johnson, Certified Personal Trainer (ACE); IBNFC Certified Nutrition Coach

Osteoporosis is an age-related disorder in which the bones become gradually thinner and porous and over time, are less able to support the weight of the body. It has a debilitating effect on quality of life, as it limits a person’s independence. Osteoporosis attacks both men and women but women are at greater risk for developing the condition. Women tend to suffer more severely because they start with a lower bone density, lose more bone mass as they age and bone loss accelerates even more rapidly following menopause.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, (, an estimated 44 million Americans - or 55% of people over the age of 50, either have or are at risk for osteoporosis. Ten million already have the disease and almost 34 million more are estimated to have low bone density. Osteoporosis causes 1.5 million fractures every year in the U.S. As the population continues to age, this number is expected to double by 2040.

Prevention is Key

The following lifestyle related factors may lead to the development of osteoporosis:

*Lack of exercise and physical activity
*Calcium and Vitamin D deficiencies
*Prolonged use of certain medications, alcohol, caffeine and carbonated beverages

Other risk factors include:

*Being Caucasian or Asian
*Having a small or thin frame
*Having a family history of osteoporosis

Get Plenty of Exercise and Physical Activity

Weight-bearing exercises can help prevent bone loss and may encourage bone growth. Specific bone sites are more prone to breaks due to the type of bone they may contain, including the upper arm (at the shoulder join), the forearm (at the wrist joint), the thigh (at the hip joint) and the spine. Exercises that load, compress and stress bones are needed to strengthen them. This process is known as “bone loading."

Bone is a living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger. You know that your muscles get bigger and stronger when you use them. Bones are similar. They get stronger and denser when you make them work. For bones, that means handling impact, the weight of your body or more for resistance. We know there are two types of exercises that are important for building and maintaining bone density. They are weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises.

Weight-Bearing Exercises

These exercises include activities that make you move against gravity while staying upright. They can be high or low impact. High impact weight-bearing exercises can include dancing, high-impact aerobics, hiking, jogging/running/walking, jumping rope, stair climbing or tennis. Low-impact exercises could involve using the elliptical training machine, low-impact aerobics, stair-step machines or fast walking on a treadmill or outside.

Muscle-Strengthening Exercises

Muscle-strengthening exercises include activities where you move your body, a weight or some other resistance against gravity. They include lifting weights, using elastic exercise bands, weight machines, lifting your own body weight (push ups) and functional movements, such as standing and rising on your toes. Improving muscle strength helps conserve bone mass, but remember that the form of exercise selected should in part be based on individual preferences and previous experience, and must not generate any joint pain.

Yoga and Pilates can also improve strength, balance and flexibility. However, certain positions may not be safe for people with osteoporosis or those at risk for broken bones (like forward bending of the spine). Non-impact exercises can help you to improve balance and posture and how you move through everyday life. These exercises can also help to increase muscle strength and decrease the risk of fall and broken bones. Some of these exercises include:

Balance Exercises - Exercises that strengthen your legs and test your balance such as Tai Chi, can decrease your risk of falls

Posture Exercises – Exercises that improve your posture and reduce rounded or sloping shoulders. Helpful for the spine.

Functional Exercises – Exercises that improve how well you move can help you with everyday activities and decrease your chances of falling and breaking a bone - standing up and sitting down, climbing stairs, reaching overhead, etc.

An ideal program should include weight-bearing (or aerobic) exercises for a total of about 30 minutes on most days of the week. Muscle-strengthening exercises should be done 2-3 days per week. Try to do one exercise for each major muscle group for a total of 8-12 different exercises. Aim for two sets of 8-10 repetitions for each exercise. Give yourself a 30 second rest between sets. Balance, posture and functional exercises can be done every day.

And, as always, consult your physician before beginning any exercise program, who will determine whether exercise will be beneficial to you. If you’re given the go-ahead, start slowly and build up over time. If you already have osteoporosis or low bone density, your doctor may prescribe supervised exercises with a physical therapist, exercise physiologist or personal trainer who can show you safe ways to move and exercise.

Bones to Last a Lifetime

Bone-loading exercises and a balanced diet are important components of preventing osteoporosis. If you take care of your bones now, they will stay strong enough to carry you safely through a lifetime of health and activity.

Stay Health and Fit,

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