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Exercising with Osteoporosis

Older woman sitting on balance ball working with professional.

If you have osteoporosis, you might think exercise will put you at risk for fractures.  As it turns out, using your muscles helps protect your bones, and exercise can reduce your risk of the spinal problems and broken bones that can result in loss of mobility and independence.  Osteoporosis is a major cause of disability in older women, so staying active is more important than ever.  Regardless of gender bones will likely lose some density as you age, but especially so for post-menopausal women. Don’t worry, though, it is never too late to start exercising.  Adopting an exercise regimen will increase your muscle strength, improve your balance and help avoid falls—and it may keep your bones from getting weaker.  Other possible benefits of exercise include:

  • Increasing your ability to carry out daily tasks and activities
  • Maintaining or improving your posture
  • Relieving or lessening pain
  • Increasing your sense of well being

The key to exercising with osteoporosis is to find the safest, most enjoyable activities for you, given your overall health and amount of bone loss.  Before you begin any exercise program, you should consult your doctor or physical therapist.  You may need a bone density test and a fitness assessment.  Due to the varying degrees of osteoporosis and the risk of fracture, certain exercises may be discouraged.

Choosing the Right Form of Exercise

Following the recommendations given by your physician or physical therapist, choose from the suggested activities below:

  • Strength Training Exercises, especially those for the back

Strength training includes the use of free weights, weight machines, resistance bands or water exercises to strengthen the muscles and bones in your arms and upper spine.  Strength training can also work directly on your bones to slow mineral loss.  Osteoporosis can cause compression fractures in your spinal column.  These fractures often lead to a stooped posture, increasing the pressure along the front of your spinal column, and result in even more compression fractures.  Exercises that gently stretch your upper back, strengthen the muscles between your shoulder blades and improve your posture can all help to reduce harmful stress on your bones and maintain bone density.

  • Weight-Bearing Aerobic Activities

Weight-bearing aerobic activities involve doing aerobic exercise on your feet, with your bones supporting your weight.  Examples include walking, dancing, low-impact aerobics, elliptical training machines, stair climbing and gardening.  These types of exercise work directly on the bones in your legs, hips and lower spine to slow mineral loss.  They can also provide cardiovascular benefits, which boost heart and circulatory system health.  Swimming and water aerobics have many benefits, but they don’t have the impact your bones need to slow mineral loss.  However, these activities can be useful in cases of extreme osteoporosis, during rehabilitation following a fracture or for increasing aerobic capacity.

  • Flexibility Exercises

Being able to move your joints through their full range of motion helps you maintain good balance and prevent muscle injury.  Increased flexibility can also help improve your posture.  When your joints are stiff, your abdominal and chest muscles become tight, pulling you forward and giving you a stooped posture.  Stretches are best performed after your muscles are warmed up — at the end of your exercise session.  They should be done gently and slowly, without bouncing.  Avoid stretches that flex your spine or cause you to bend at the waist.  These positions may put excessive stress on the bones in your spine, placing you at greater risk of a compression fracture.

  • Stability and Balance Exercises

Fall prevention is important for people who have osteoporosis.  Stability and balance exercises help your muscles work together in a way that helps keep you more stable and less likely to fall.  Simple exercises such as standing on one leg or movement-based exercises such as tai chi can improve your stability and balance.

It’s important to remember, there is no one-size-fits-all plan, and your exercise regimen should be tailored to your interests and abilities.

Movements to Avoid

If you have osteoporosis, there are a few activities that may cause injuries; the following exercises are ones you’ll want to avoid:

  • High-impact exercises, such as jumping, running or jogging. These activities increase compression in your spine and lower extremities and can lead to fractures in weakened bones. Avoid jerky, rapid movements in general.  Choose exercises with slow, controlled movements.
  • Exercises where you must bend forward and twist your waist put pressure on the bones in your spine, increasing your risk of compression fractures. Things like touching your toes, doing sit-ups, playing golf or tennis can require these movements. You might also want to be careful executing some yoga poses.

Now that you’re armed with the proper knowledge on how to safely exercise, get a plan in place and start today, leaving behind the fear of fractures.

Did you know a physical therapist can help you create a safe exercise regimen if you’re still unsure where to begin? For more information, call the Phoenix location nearest you.