Exercises to prevent or cope with osteoporosis


Exercise can help prevent osteoporosis, delay onset in those genetically inclined to it, and significantly limit its negative consequences. (Indeed, even in the 19th Century it was observed that mechanical loading – carrying weight - shaped the growing bones of children.) Studies have shown that any sort of activity employing the body’s major muscle groups makes a positive difference in the fight against osteoporosis, and that weight- or load-bearing exercises are the most effective. Exercise that cause muscle to pull on bone stimulates the body to build more execrising for osteoporoisis preventionboney mineral mass. The Cleveland Clinic says regular exercise can reduce the risk of falls and the incidence of fractures.

Therapists and exercise gurus advocate lifting light to medium amounts of weight to stimulate bone growth while reducing the incidence of pulled muscles or joint injuries. Even 2-5 lbs weights can be effective for arm lifts. Other light exercises involve holding a bar toting 20 to 25 lbs of weight and doing squats, or simply walking around a track while carrying weights. This is called resistance exercise, because the weight is resisting the free movement of the muscle. Swimming is great. especially for people past age 50 because it provides resistance and little impact to joints. Resistance exercise is most effective when engaged in three to five times per week. As muscles are strengthened, the routine may be expanded by adding more weight or increasing repetitions or laps in the pool. It is important to find ways to exercise the muscles throughout the body, including the chest, back, and stomach, not just the arms and legs.

Weight-bearing exercises include any activity which uses the muscles to hold up of lift the body’s weight. Walking, hiking, jogging, stair climbing, and dancing are all effective weight bearing exercises that will help prevent osteoporosis or diminish its consequences. Lifting weights and carrying weights during morning walks also helps. Participating 3 to 5 times per week in weight bearing exercises, for 30 to 60 minutes contributes to the fight against osteoporosis, and yields numerous other physical and emotional benefits. Repetitive weight exercises increase bone density most visibly in the adolescent years, although they still help during adulthood and after menopause.

The New York Times reports that “the bone mineral density of young endurance runners is consistently lower than that of sprinters, gymnasts or ball sports athletes.” They reported an expert that said “Repetitive stress can tear down bone and is not the best for increasing bone strength.”

Yard work such as pushing a lawnmower and heavy gardening can be beneficial exercises Sports, including skiing, skating, martial arts, dancing, and bowling, recreatinal biking can count. Formal weight training with free weights or machines can also be very useful.

"High impact" aerobic activity is not good for people who already have developed osteoporosis. When bones are thin, "low impact" exercise is preferred. If you work with a trainer or physical therapist, they can help develop a progressive program in which weights increase over time.

To reduce the risk of injury and gain the optimal benefit from weight bearing exercises, use simple precautions. Exercise should fit into the daily schedule, should be enjoyable, and should feel safe. First, speak to your physician about your proposed activities, and follow his or her guidance. Secondly, and especially if you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, begin with light exercises and slowly increase resistance as you feel comfortable and remain free of exercise-related injury. Finally, be cautious of exercises which involve twisting, such as golf or bowling. These subject bones to torque, and may cause stress fractures. This is particularly important if osteoporosis has already been identified.

There is a myth that exercise can increase the risk of osteoarthritis in the knees, but this has been debunked.

Frailty syndrome is often comorbid with osteoporosis, and exercise can help fight both.

Yoga, Pilates, etc.

A webpage published by Harvard Medcal School discusses possible benefits of yoga to maintaining bone health - https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/yoga-another-way-to-prevent-osteoporosis. The scientific journal Topics in Rehabilitation has a paper on how 12-min per day yoga can reverse bone loss.

Pilates promoters likewise have methods to modify their regimens for people with bone problems.
Pilates people like to stress that pilates increases core strength and reduces the risk of falls which are particularly dangerous for people with osteoporosis.

Related: Obesity and osteoporosis

Oscillating Plate

One other treatment of which some experts are wary is the oscillating plate. (The idea is you stand on the plate every day for a few minutes and that stimulates formation of new bone.)

Excessive Exercise - The Downsides

People who exercise heavily and often tend to have high bone densities.  Women below the age of menopause who exercise at endurance levels sometimes stop menstruating in a condition called amenorrhea. The low estrogen levels in the bloodstream are a greater negative effect on bone density than the positive effect of the exercise.  When women exercising at this level who have amenorrhea are immobilized in a period of bed rest, the bone mass decreases quickly.

The government's Osteroporosis and Bone Diseases National Resource Center website warns against overtraining because of its potential effects on the skeletal system. See also our page on pregnancy.

Gait and Balance Training

Physical therapists have programs in "gait training" – teaching people how to walk.  These are often given to old people who have suffered bone fractures.  Balance training can also be effective in reducing fall incidence. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18349754)  Balance training is probably useful for anyone, especially older people, whether they have osteoporosis or not.  It is not a trivial thing to maintain balance and even gung-ho military trainers incorporate balance training into their regimens.

A commercial product called the Juvent is marketed as a treatment for people with osteoporosis. The patient stands on the unit 20 minutes a day and the unit uses "Dynamic Motion Therapy". It costs over $3000.

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