This is an osteoporosis exercise guide directly from the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF)
Exercise Regularly. You know that your muscles get bigger and stronger when you use them. Your bones are similar! They get stronger and denser when you make them work. And “work” for bones means handling impact, the weight of your body or more resistance.
Currently, we know the most about two types of exercises that are important for building and maintaining bone density. These exercises are:
These exercises include activities that make you move against gravity while being upright. They include both high-impact and low-impact activities.
Examples of high-impact weight-bearing activities are running, hiking and playing soccer. See Group 1 in the chart below for more examples.
If you can’t do high-impact weight-bearing activities, try one of the lower-impact ones listed in Group 2. For example, try walking or using an elliptical training machine.
Biking and swimming are not weight-bearing exercises, so they don’t help your bones as much. If you like these activities, try to add other activities to your exercise routine that work your bones.
If you haven’t exercised regularly for a while, check with your healthcare provider before you begin a new program—particularly if you have health problems such as heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure. Once you have your healthcare provider’s approval, start slowly.
These exercises include activities where you move your body, a weight or some other resistance against gravity. These exercises are also known as resistance exercises.
Muscle-strengthening exercises include lifting weights, using elastic exercise bands, using weight machines or lifting your own body weight. Yoga and Pilates are also muscle-strengthening exercises. However, people with osteoporosis and low bone density need to avoid certain positions.
For example, if you’ve already had broken bones in the spine due to osteoporosis, be very careful to avoid activities that require reaching far, bending forward, rapid twisting motions, heavy lifting and any movements that increase your chance of a fall.
How Much Exercise Should I Do?
Weight-bearing, impact exercises should be done for a total of 30 minutes per day, five to seven days per week.
You can do 30 minutes at one time or break it up during the day. For example, 3 sessions of 10 minutes each will provide a similar bone benefit as one 30-minute session. If you can’t fit 10 minutes in, spread your exercise throughout the day by taking the stairs or by parking farther from the store or work.
Muscle-strengthening exercises should be done two to three days a week. You should aim for one exercise for each major muscle group for a total of 8-12 exercises. You should do one or two sets of 8 to 10 repetitions for each exercise. If you lift a weight 10 times in a row and stop, you have completed one set of 10 repetitions.
If you can’t do 8 in a row, the weight is too heavy or resistance is too much. If you can do more than 10 in a row, you should probably increase the weight or resistance. If you have osteoporosis or are frail, it may be better to do 10 to 15 repetitions with a lighter weight.
If you don’t have much time for muscle-strengthening, do small amounts at a time. You can do just one body part each day. For example work arms one day, legs the next and trunk the next. You can also spread these exercises out during your normal day.
As you get started, your muscles may feel sore for a day or two after you exercise. If the soreness lasts longer, you may be working too hard and need to ease up. Exercises should be done in a pain-free range of motion.
Seeing a Physical Therapist
If you’ve broken a bone or have osteoporosis, consider working with a physical therapist to choose the best exercises for you and to learn the correct form.
Your doctor or healthcare provider should be able to provide you with a referral or prescription to see a physical therapist.
In addition to the exercises listed in the chart above, the following exercises are also good for people with low bone density and osteoporosis:
Exercises that strengthen your legs and challenge your balance, such as Tai Chi, can decrease your risk of falls.
Exercises that improve your posture and reduce rounded or “sloping” shoulders can help you decrease your chance of breaking bones in the spine.
Exercises that improve how well you move can help you in everyday activities and decrease your risk of falls and broken bones. For example, if you have trouble getting up from a chair or climbing stairs, you should do functional exercises.
Where can I learn balance, posture and functional exercises?
A physical therapist can teach you balance, posture and functional exercises.
* These exercises should not hurt in any way while they are being done or cause muscle soreness lasting more than two days. All individuals should obtain permission from their healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise program.