Osteoporosis is characterised by the loss of minerals – in particular calcium – from a person’s bones, which can make the bones more prone to fractures and breakage. In New Zealand, it’s predicted that 1 in every 5 men and 1 in every 3 women will develop osteoporosis at some stage in their life. In particular, those over the age of 60 are more prone to developing the condition, and women are more prone to osteoporosis due to the hormonal changes that occur during menopause. This risk can be reduced through a calcium-rich diet as well as regular exercise throughout the person’s life.

Although it’s commonly believed that exercising with osteoporosis may be dangerous, the opposite is actually true; a lifestyle of little exercise can result in decreased bone mass, which can make osteoporosis symptoms worse. Most fractures occur as the result of a fall, which can be caused by poor balance; exercising builds up your muscle strength, which consequently improves your balance and reduces your fall risk. To further this, exercise can also help to slow the rate of bone loss, which further reduces the potential risk of bone fractures.

As a result, regular exercise is something that you should complete throughout your life, and something that should continue even if you have osteoporosis. Here are some of the reasons why exercise can help you to improve your lifestyle if you have osteoporosis.

Benefits of exercise

A sedentary lifestyle can cause a wide array of problems, including poor balance, weaker muscles and increased risk of fractures. Someone who has osteoporosis can see a range of health benefits through exercise, including:

Improved physical fitness
By increasing your overall fitness, you can improve your overall health and therefore reduce the risk of developing any other conditions.

Improved muscle strength
Improved muscle strength has a wide range of benefits, including better balance to reduce the risk of falls.

Increased mobility
As we grow older, our mobility will begin to decrease. By exercising, we can keep ourselves as mobile as possible, which helps us to move around and complete daily activity with ease.

Increased reaction time
This is important as you have more chance to catch yourself should you have a fall or slip. This can allow you to reduce any potential damage that may have been caused, and reduce the risk of serious bone fractures.

Reduced pain
Whilst many of us associate exercise with pain, it can help to alleviate pain in daily life. If your body is strong and your fitness is high, you will not struggle to complete daily activities.

Reduction of bone loss
Exercising helps us to retain our bone density, and as a result can reduce the rate at which our bones deteriorate. This will help you to feel stronger and more supported throughout your daily life.

Better mood management
Exercising releases endorphins, also known as the ‘feel-good’ hormone. These help to boost your mood throughout the day, allowing you to feel happier and more energised.

These are just some of the benefits that we can gain from when exercising with osteoporosis. It is important to create an exercise routine based around your lifestyle, ensuring that you do not over-strain or overwork, whilst at the same time exercising enough to reap the benefits.

Choosing an exercise programme

The first thing to do when choosing an exercise programme is consult your doctor, physiotherapist or healthcare professional. They will help you to create a personalised exercise programme tailored to your needs, ensuring that you do not over-strain yourself, and get maximum benefit from your exercise efforts. They’ll take into account factors including age, the severity of your osteoporosis, your current fitness ability, any medications that you are taking, and any other medical conditions that you may have. By doing this, your medical professional can help you to create an exercise programme with outcomes that will benefit you throughout daily life.

Recommended exercises

People living with osteoporosis will benefit from certain exercises more than others for a wide range of reasons. In general, everyone is different and so it is all about finding the exercises that benefit you the most (again, in consultation with your medical professional). Here are some exercises that are regularly recommended for people with osteoporosis.

  • Light resistance training using free weights such as dumbbells, elastic band resistance training, body weight training and weight training machines
  • Body strength exercises that work on posture and balance, for example tai chi
  • Any form of weight-bearing activity, such as light running

The best routines will combine a mix of all three of these for the best possible benefits. Each focuses on a certain aspect of your health and altogether, they can result in significant benefits for your body.

Another fantastic exercise for people with osteoporosis is any form of swimming or water exercise – this can include anything from swimming lengths to aerobics and hydrotherapy. These are easy on the body as they are not weight-bearing activities, so you can significantly improve your cardiovascular fitness and your muscle strength, with a significantly lower risk of injury.

Swimming is particularly beneficial for those with severe osteoporosis or kyphosis as it significantly decreases the risk of injury, whilst providing you with an extremely beneficial form of exercise. Always make sure that you contact your doctor or a healthcare professional before engaging in any form of exercise, as this will help to ensure your safety throughout your routine.

The benefits of walking for people with osteoporosis

If you believe that an exercise regime may be too intense for you, or if you’re prone to fractures, walking is a fantastic way to introduce some form of physical activity into your life. You can begin with smaller walks around the block and down the road, then slowly begin to go on longer walks once your confidence has increased.

Exercises to avoid

It is important to remember that when living with osteoporosis, you are at greater risk when it comes to exercising. As a result, there are a number of exercises that you should avoid in order to prevent injury or further damage. These are some of the exercises that you should avoid:

  • Any exercise that involves forward flexion of the spine, such as sit-ups
  • Any exercise where you are at risk of falling or dropping something onto yourself
  • Anything that requires a sudden forceful movement, such as weightlifting – however, this can be introduced gradually as part of a programme, and can be completed with a professional.
  • Exercises that require a forceful twisting motion such as weighted twists or golf swings, unless you are already accustomed to such movements.

By avoiding these exercises, you can reduce the risk of injury or any further damage.

What is the right amount of exercise?

The exact amount of exercise required for people with osteoporosis differs from person to person based on the exercise that they did throughout their life, as well as their current physical condition. The following information is based on general guidelines and can be used as a base to plan your schedules.

It is suggested that you complete 45 minutes to one hour of aerobic activity two to three times per week to improve your cardiovascular system and keep your heart strong.

Specialised and tailored resistance training is recommended two or three times per week. The sessions themselves should focus on specific muscle groups, with exercises being performed eight to ten times.

Stretching and balance exercises should be performed for a few minutes at least twice a week, and should challenge your balance. Make sure you always have something to hold on to in case of an overbalance or slip.

Overall, it is crucial that you continue to exercise with osteoporosis. There are a number of benefits, most of which will help you throughout your daily life, and will allow you to live without consistent pain and injury. Make sure you always consult your doctor or healthcare professional before starting an exercise programme, and exercise safely without putting yourself at risk.