Boost your bone health by getting the facts straight.
Osteoporosis—which translates to “porous bone”—has been a condition that stumped doctors and researchers for centuries. Although doctors know much more today about what causes osteoporosis and how to prevent it, misinformation continues to circulate in the general public.
“We need to update our thinking on osteoporosis because there are still a lot of outdated thoughts,” says Joan Pagano, exercise physiologist in New York City.
The consequence of not understanding bone health is devastating: Half of American women and one in four men above the age of 50 will have a fracture caused by osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF). Fractures at an old age can be immobilizing, isolating, and even fatal.
But preventing osteoporosis is possible, and understanding the role of exercise for your bone development can empower you to protect your bones’ integrity. Here are four misconceptions about exercising with osteoporosis that are holding you back from achieving your best bone health.
MYTH: All types of exercise helps prevent osteoporosis.
First things first: Just about any type of exercise is beneficial for your body in some way (as long as it’s the appropriate intensity level for you). That said, specific types of exercise are better for you than others when it comes to keeping bones strong.
Many people prefer walking, swimming, and biking, assuming the low-impact exercises will be protective of the bones. That’s a myth, according to Pagano.
“They’re not the best exercises because you need to do weight-bearing cardio,” says Pagano. “If you are in the water, your weight is supported by the buoyancy of the water. If you’re sitting on a bicycle, your weight is supported by a bicycle seat.”
Weight-bearing or “bone-loading” exercises are the best way to impact your bone mineral density, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation. These types of workouts apply more force on specific bones and muscles than they would normally carry in daily activities. Examples include weight machines or using resistance bands.
If you like walking, swimming, and biking, good news: They’re still effective “if you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis [and can help] reduce your risk of fractures and falling,” says Pagano. Furthermore, these cardio exercises can lower your risk of heart disease, which increases as you age.
MYTH: If osteoporosis runs in your family, there’s “nothing you can do about it.”
Osteoporosis *can* be prevented, and it’s a lifelong endeavor. “Activity and nutrition during childhood and adolescence can be a very powerful factor in reducing your risk of osteoporosis later in life,” says Pagano.
The truth is, bone mineral density is primarily developed during your childhood and teenage years. During this time, new bone tissue is added faster than old bone tissue is withdrawn, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. That changes by age 30.
To make the most of childhood bone development, parents should encourage their kids to do high-impact exercise and eat plenty of bone-boosting foods.
MYTH: Exercise can compensate for low-calcium intake.
Different researchers may debate over which factor—exercise or calcium intake—is more important to bones, but your best bet is to do both. One without the other will never provide your best bone health.
“Both exercise and calcium are the cornerstone of building healthy bones,” says Pagano. “They affect the body differently and have different benefits.”
When you exercise, you’re stimulating the bones to produce new tissue. You can see evidence of this by looking at baseball players. A 2014 study from researchers at Indiana University revealed that bone density and strength were significantly greater in the players’ throwing arm than non-throwing arm, even if they had stopped playing baseball years ago.
Calcium, on the other hand, helps the body mineralize bone tissue, helping it become harder and stronger. Your body houses 99 percent of its calcium stores in the skeleton, and eating plenty of high-calcium foods can help the body get enough. (And don’t forget vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium.)
MYTH: You shouldn’t exercise if you have osteoporosis.
If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis, your intuition may think, “My bones are fragile, so I should avoid physical activity to prevent a fracture.”
It’s a logical thought, but in reality, keeping your bones active is the best approach to prevent falls and fractures. Exercise with osteoporosis only modestly affects your bone mineral density, but it has a huge effect on strength, flexibility, and balance—all of which keep you upright and sturdy.
“We don’t want to have a debilitating fracture that could be a life-changing experiencing, especially at an older age,” says Pagano.
Fractures are serious: About 20 percent of seniors who suffer a hip fracture die within one year, according to NOF. Death by hip fracture is usually caused by complications of the broken bone or the resulting surgery.
But you’re right that some precaution is necessary. “It’s important to exercise with osteoporosis,” says Pagano, “but you do need to be educated on what safe modifications you can make so that you continue to benefit.”
Try it out with these tips:
00:00:00,026 --> 00:00:03,263
00:00:03,263 --> 00:00:08,225
It's true that we need to update our
thinking on osteoporosis because there's
00:00:08,225 --> 00:00:11,420
still a lot of outdated
thoughts that people have.
00:00:11,420 --> 00:00:15,550
It's never too late to start exercising,
and the earlier you begin,
00:00:15,550 --> 00:00:17,010
the longer you benefit.
00:00:17,010 --> 00:00:21,291
And this applies to osteoporosis, as well
as to every other kind of condition.
00:00:21,291 --> 00:00:27,881
00:00:27,881 --> 00:00:32,727
It's a myth that walking, swimming,
and biking are good exercises for
00:00:32,727 --> 00:00:34,660
00:00:34,660 --> 00:00:40,190
They're not the best exercises because
you need to do weight bearing cardio,
00:00:40,190 --> 00:00:44,800
which means you have to be on your feet,
and if you are in the water,
00:00:44,800 --> 00:00:47,220
your weight is supported by
the buoyancy of the water.
00:00:47,220 --> 00:00:50,820
If you're sitting on a bicycle, your
weight is supported by the bicycle seat.
00:00:50,820 --> 00:00:53,290
Walking 30 minutes a day,
while it's good for
00:00:53,290 --> 00:00:57,280
your general health,
is not enough to stimulate the bones.
00:00:57,280 --> 00:00:59,470
You're not creating enough of an overload.
00:00:59,470 --> 00:01:03,110
Walking, swimming, and biking, while
they may not be the best exercises for
00:01:03,110 --> 00:01:05,190
00:01:05,190 --> 00:01:08,880
can be very effective if you've
been diagnosed with osteoporosis.
00:01:08,880 --> 00:01:14,900
They can be great exercises to reduce
your risk of falling and fracturing.
00:01:14,900 --> 00:01:17,970
It's a myth that if osteoporosis
runs in your family,
00:01:17,970 --> 00:01:19,530
you can't do anything about it.
00:01:19,530 --> 00:01:24,630
Activity and nutrition during
childhood and adolescence can
00:01:24,630 --> 00:01:30,788
be a very powerful factor in reducing
your risk of osteoporosis later in life.
00:01:30,788 --> 00:01:36,040
You want to do high impact exercise for
kids through childhood and
00:01:36,040 --> 00:01:40,680
adolescence, when they're developing
the peak bone mass, that has the most
00:01:40,680 --> 00:01:45,580
effect on the forming skeleton, the
developing skeleton during those years.
00:01:45,580 --> 00:01:49,390
It's a myth that if you don't
get enough calcium in your diet,
00:01:49,390 --> 00:01:52,430
you can compensate by exercising harder.
00:01:52,430 --> 00:01:59,760
Both exercise and calcium are the
cornerstone of building healthy bones.
00:01:59,760 --> 00:02:02,820
They effect the body differently and
have different benefits.
00:02:02,820 --> 00:02:08,900
Exercise stimulates the bone remodeling
cycle, and calcium mineralizes it.
00:02:08,900 --> 00:02:14,340
The skeleton houses 99% of
the body's calcium stores.
00:02:14,340 --> 00:02:18,560
And in order to maintain a healthy
level of calcium in the bloodstream,
00:02:18,560 --> 00:02:23,070
calcium will be taken from the bones,
if necessary, to maintain that level.
00:02:23,070 --> 00:02:27,180
So you want to be eating enough calcium
in your diet in order to maintain
00:02:27,180 --> 00:02:30,610
the healthy level of calcium in
your bloodstream and in your bones.
00:02:30,610 --> 00:02:34,080
It is a myth that if you
are diagnosed with osteoporosis,
00:02:34,080 --> 00:02:37,650
you should not exercise because
it could damage your bones.
00:02:37,650 --> 00:02:39,070
The opposite is true.
00:02:39,070 --> 00:02:43,910
Exercise is even more important because
we don't want to have a debilitating
00:02:43,910 --> 00:02:48,480
fracture that could be a life changing
experience, especially at an older age.
00:02:48,480 --> 00:02:52,087
It's important to exercise with
osteoporosis, but you do need
00:02:52,087 --> 00:02:56,854
be educated on what safe modifications you
can make so that you continue to benefit.
00:02:56,854 --> 00:03:01,417
Calcium. Nyon, Switzerland: International Osteoporosis Foundation. (Accessed on August 6, 2018 at https://www.iofbonehealth.org/osteoporosis-musculoskeletal-disorders/osteoporosis/prevention/calcium.)
Effective exercises for osteoporosis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Medical School, 2014. (Accessed on August 6 2018 at https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/effective-exercises-for-osteoporosis.)
Exercise recommendations. Nyon, Switzerland: International Osteoporosis Foundation. (Accessed on August 6, 2018 at https://www.iofbonehealth.org/exercise-recommendations.)
Giangregorio LM, Papaioannou A, MacIntyre NJ, Ashe MC, Heinonen A, Shipp K, et al. Too fit to fracture: exercise recommendations for individuals with osteoporosis or osteoporotic vertebral fracture. Ostoporos Int. March 2014;25(3):821-35.
Healthy bones matter. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. (Accessed on August 6, 2018 at https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/kids/healthy-bones.)
Osteoporosis. Washington, DC: U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on August 6, 2018 at https://medlineplus.gov/osteoporosis.html.)
Warden SJ, Mantila Roosa SM, Kersh ME, Hurd AL, Fleisig GS, Pandy MG, Fuchs RK. Physical activity when young provides lifelong benefits to cortical bone size and strength in men. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2014 Apr 8;111(14):5337-42.
What is osteoporosis and what causes it? Arlington, VA: National Osteoporosis Foundation. (Accessed on August 6, 2018 at https://www.nof.org/patients/what-is-osteoporosis/.)