Exercise and osteoporosis
Regular exercise can keep you healthy in many ways, especially by maintaining bone strength. When you exercise, your muscles rhythmically contract and relax, and these movements put healthy stress through your body's bones helping them to remain strong. Stronger bones early in adult life mean that there is less chance of developing osteoporosis later in life and suffering fractures from minor trauma–so-called fragility fractures.
However, if you already have osteoporosis, can regular exercise cause you harm rather than making you stronger? The key principle is intensity which means there is an exercise 'sweet spot.' Excessively intensive exercise can lead to damage of the weaker bones that characterise osteoporosis, but insufficiently intensive exercise results in no benefit to the bones at all.
A study from scientists at the Universities of Exeter and Leicester looking at exercise in 2,500 women with osteoporosis, found that those who did one to two minutes of high-intensity activity per day had 4% better bone health than those who did less than a minute.
The bone health of those who did more than two minutes of high-intensity activity per day was found to be a further 2% above baseline.
At mybonehealth.co.uk we advise people who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis to avoid being inactive and to exercise daily. A brisk walk for 10–15 minutes, once or twice a day is a good start. Also joining a Pilates class lead by an instructor trained in bone health can be a safe way to do regular, effective exercise to help strengthen weakened bones.
The best way to avoid fragility fractures is to prevent osteoporosis from developing.
Taking regular exercise early in life and keeping it up is a good start. Another way is to make sure you have a properly balanced diet that promotes bone health (dietary advice for people with osteoporosis: Vitamin D and Calcium)
What are the best exercises? Ones you will enjoy – then you can keep doing them!
Bones get stronger if they have to do work, such as during weight-bearing exercises.
Swimming and cycling are great for general fitness but they're not strictly weight-bearing, so they aren't directly helpful for bone health. BUT, exercise in water, like aqua aerobics, ticks that box. Exercising against the resistance of water promotes bone health and is particularly acceptable for people with joint problems because the water takes the strain off their joints while they're working.
Training on a multi-gym, with free-weights or resistance bands can work well and generally puts stress through most of the bones in the skeleton. This helps bone health in the spine and limbs. The slower the movement, the better - move slowly, precisely and take longer breaks between sets. The muscles put stress through the bones and as the muscles improve in strength and tone, the bone responds by getting stronger too. It’s one of the beneficial ways the body reacts to to the demands being placed on it.
The most common sites for fragility fractures in people with impaired bone health are around the shoulders, at the wrists, at the hips and in the spine. Specific exercises around these sites can help improve bone health in these areas and so contribute to fracture prevention.
You can do mat or machine-based classes with the Pilates technique. Both are excellent and if you can find a Pilates teacher who is also qualified in Bone Health, you know you will get the right exercises for you.
Pilates works on balance and coordination, good joint and spinal mobility as well as strength. These are all necessary requirements for all of us to maintain bone health.
Yoga T’ai Chi
Another great way to move and improve balance and flexibility.
T’ai Chi includes a lot of movement on one leg at a time, so is excellent for improving balance. Increasing stability may reduce the risk of falls.
The best way to increase your bone density is to do regular weight-bearing exercise. Bone health is maintained best by performing a variety of exercises which positively stress the spine and limbs in a range of directions. Doing the same exercise routine daily won't provide the range of muscle activity that keeps bones at their best and variety stops boredom.
Is it possible to OVER-EXERCISE?
Yes it is. Excessive training in certain groups, such as young female athletes and dancers, can lead to hormonal changes that can negatively impact bone health. In people with impaired bone health, over-exercising could result in stress fractures in the spine or limbs. People who think they could be at risk of over-exercising in the presence of impaired bone health, must seek professional advice.
Take home message
A manageable combination of weight-bearing, resistance, balance and flexibility exercises on land and in water helps maintain bone-health, improve muscular tone, strength and stamina. These are all vital for a healthy body and should be built into everyone's day.
This link will take you to the International Osteoporosis Foundation's official website for further information about exercise for osteoporosis: https://www.iofbonehealth.org/exercise
"Helping you stay stronger for longer"