Osteoporosis can be a debilitating disease. When bone loss happens faster than the creation of new bone tissue, bones become weak and brittle, making them susceptible to breaks and fractures. While you may think such risks are far in the future, bone mass begins to lessen after your 30s. Once it’s gone, there’s nothing you can do to get it back, but there are ways to slow its loss, build new bone, and keep what you’ve got strong and healthy. You may be genetically prone to develop osteoporosis, but there are many ways to help prevent it.
Besides nutrition, exercise is one of the most important ways to prevent, treat, and slow the progression of osteoporosis. Exercise also increases muscle strength and improves balance and coordination, all which help prevent falls and the chance of broken bones.
One of the most important things to remember about maintaining your bones is that you’ve got to use your bones to keep them strong. A sedentary lifestyle puts you at great risk for developing osteoporosis. Lower your risk by including weight-bearing exercises and muscle-strengthening exercises in your workout routine.
Exercises that force you to move against gravity are called weight-bearing activities. High-impact weight-bearing exercises are needed to build strong bones and to keep them strong. Your kids may drive you crazy running and jumping around, but let them. They need that kind of activity to build strong bones.
Examples of high-impact weight-bearing activities include jogging, hiking, climbing stairs, dancing, aerobics, basketball, and racquet sports like tennis. Going up and down hills while jogging or hiking will benefit your bones even more.
If you already have osteoporosis or weakening bones, low-impact weight-bearing exercises are a safer alternative. Try using an elliptical machine, going for a brisk walk, using the stair-stepper machine, or playing a round or two of golf.
Exercises like swimming, cycling, and Tai Chi aren’t weight bearing so they won’t increase the strength of your bones. Non-weight-bearing exercises are better than none when it comes to your bones, however, because they increase muscle mass and improve your coordination, decreasing your risk of falling.
Aim to do 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercises on most days of the week.
Also called resistance or strength training exercises, muscle-strengthening exercises do just that: strengthen muscles. Moving your body or weights against gravity is one way to stimulate bone growth and support healthy bones. Body-weight exercises (push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups), calisthenics, weight lifting, elastic bands workouts, and using weight machines at the gym are all forms of muscle-strengthening exercises.
Include muscle-strengthening exercises in your workout routine two to three days a week for optimal bone health.
If you have osteoporosis or thinning bones, get your doctor’s approval before starting a new exercise program. If possible, work with a physical therapist to help you develop an exercise program that’s safe for your particular situation.
Thin, brittle bones break easily. Breaking a bone is not only painful, but the recovery can be lengthy and difficult—especially as you age. Decrease your risk of falling by avoiding heavy lifting, twisting and bending movements, activities like horseback riding or climbing ladders, and exercises like skiing or skating.
Exercise isn’t an overnight magic pill to repair and build bone. It takes time to notice a difference, so be patient. In young people, new bone growth can take up to three to four months, so imagine how much longer it takes for older people and those who already have osteoporosis. Commit to regular weight-bearing and muscle strengthening exercises for a year and the next time you have a bone density scan, notice how your hard work has paid off.