How to prevent osteoporosis with exercise

Osteoporosis is a thinning of the bones that occurs over time for most people. Although, most common in women, it can also affect men as they age. Osteoporosis is associated with 1.2 million bone fractures each year.

The combination of low bone mass and changes in bone structure leads to bone fragility, and many people with osteoporosis will suffer fractures. This definition of osteoporosis emphasizes bone or skeletal fragility.

Causes of Osteoporosis


One cause of osteoporosis is a lack of calcium in the diet. Adults need 1200 to 1,500 mg per day (4-5 8-ounce glasses of low-fat milk), but the average diet contains about 750 mg.

Another common cause among serious body builders is excessive intake of supplements, mainly protein, often more than what is required. It leads to excretion of calcium and essential vitamins and minerals.

Risk factors for osteoporosis


  • Lower body weight (<132 pounds)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Advanced age
  • Female gender
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Early menopause or amenorrhea
  • Use of corticosteroid medications
  • Diet low in calcium
  • Lack of exercise
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Excessive use of alcohol or caffeine

Exercise, bone health, and osteoporosis


Exercise and bone mass

Exercise and bone mass studies generally show that men and women who perform weight-bearing exercise three to five times a week generally have slightly more bone mass than those who do not exercise. Typical weight-bearing exercises include jogging, running, brisk walking, weight lifting, and team and individual sports like basketball, baseball, or tennis. This type of weight bearing exercise appears to stimulate bone formation, and the retention of calcium, in the bones that are bearing the load. The force of muscles pulling against bones stimulates this bone building process. Care needs to be taken though on amount of impact on a bone already affected with osteoporosis. These exercises need to be done under supervision of a physiotherapist or a qualified fitness expert.

Exercise in the older adults


Studies have shown that isometric (holding light weights without any movement at an angle) exercises three to five times a week increased lumbar (lower back) bone mass over 3 percent in 8 months; the increases were highest in those women who had been least active before the exercise program began.

Exercise in women of childbearing age


About the age of 20, women achieve peak bone mass. From ages 30 to 50, bone mass in women remains stable. The types of exercise that can increase bone mass in a woman of childbearing age include jogging, brisk walking, weight lifting, stair-step walking, treadmill walking, tennis, racquetball and basketball. The types of exercise that do not increase bone mass include swimming, walking, gardening, outdoor bicycling, and stationary exercise bicycling.

If a woman who does not exercise starts an exercise program of brisk walking and carrying hand weights three or four times a week for 30 minutes, she may experience a 3 to 5 percent increase in lumbar spine bone mass after a year.

Exercise after prolonged inactivity to rebuild bone mass


Women who have been confined to bed for any length of time because of surgery or a long illness will experience some bone loss. Exercise can strengthen muscles and restore the lost bone. Initially, the exercise program should emphasize muscle strengthening and endurance. After muscle strength is recovered, weight-bearing exercises and exercises of higher intensity can be done.

Effective osteoporosis exercises for older women

If you already have osteoporosis, you will not be able to recover bone loss, but you can stop it from getting worse. If you choose not to do anything, your bones may become much more brittle, and you might be more susceptible to broken bones due to a fall.

Three common osteoporosis exercises

Three of the best types of osteoporosis exercises for older women are flexibility, resistance, and weight bearing.

  • Flexibility

Flexibility exercises help prevent injury because your joints are able to bend much easier if you happen to fall. Yoga, pilates, and tai chi are great ways to increase your flexibility.

  • Resistance

Resistance involves using weights and performing specific movements. An example of resistance training is picking up a weight; doing curls by bending your hand at the elbow to bring the weight up to your chest.

  • Weight-bearing

Weight-bearing exercises are aerobic and include walking, dancing, and step climbing. Walking is one of the best exercises for individuals with osteoporosis especially if it’s done outside. The sun helps your body absorb vitamin D, which also helps your bones. High intensity walking or other aerobic exercises are quite effective too. High intensity means that you briskly walk instead of taking a leisurely stroll. It’s best to do weight-bearing movements for at least 30 minutes a day even if you break it up into smaller increments.


Exercise can sometimes feel like a chore, but if you do it with others, it can turn into a great social activity. Many senior centres have exercise classes you can join, or you can invite people to do some workouts with you. The more people you can find who want to exercise with you the better your chances are at staying motivated and keeping yourself physically fit. It’s time to take control of your body and have fun while doing it!

Y. Ramakrishna.

The writer is a Sports Performance Enhancement Specialist

Also read:

Important rules of exercise
Exercise and bone strength
Osteoporosis – Symptoms and treatment

Image: Flickr/creativecommons lululemon athletica