Regular Weight-Bearing Exercise

Regular Weight-Bearing Exercise

The importance of exercise in the fight against osteoporosis cannot be underestimated. Changing to a healthier diet can have little effect on bone mass when not combined with regular exercise. Starting the right kind of exercise in combination with other preventive measures like appropriate calcium intake, can help build bone mass especially in high risk fracture sites like the wrist, hip and spine.

Putting Stress on the Bones Fights Fractures

The key here is weight bearing exercise – which means exercise one performs while on their feet that works the bones and muscles against gravity. Popular forms of weight bearing exercise include:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Stair climbing
  • Dancing
  • Hiking
  • Volleyball
  • Tennis
  • Certain types of weight lifting/resistance exercises (e.g., squats)
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The particular form of exercise will depend on the person’s overall physical health, the extent of bone loss, and whether the person already regularly engages in physical activity. It is recommended that individuals speak with their physician about the appropriate types of exercise to include in their osteoporosis treatment plan, especially people who have been sedentary most of their adult life or who are already diagnosed with low bone mass (termed "osteopenia") or osteoporosis. Certain movements, like those that require twisting of the spine or bending forward from the waist (like sit-ups or toe touches), and most high-impact exercise, can put certain people at risk for fracture and should be avoided.

Recommendations on frequency of exercise needed to increase bone density vary. Depending on one’s diagnosis and doctor-recommend activity restrictions, typical exercise routines that are recommended may range from:

  • 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 to 4 times weekly, to
  • 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day plus strength training 2 to 3 times per week.

Many patients benefit from working with an exercise specialist (trained in exercise physiology, physical education, physical therapy, or a similar specialty) to learn the proper progression of exercise, how to stretch and strengthen muscles safely, and how to correct poor posture habits. This is particularly true for those with relatively advanced osteoporosis (who are most at risk for a fracture) and those who are starting a new exercise program. The exercise specialist should be familiar with the special needs of people with osteoporosis.

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Dr. Scott Boden, Orthopedic Surgeon, Atlanta, GA, 30329
Article written by: Scott D. Boden, MD