Why Exercise Is Essential to Treat and Prevent Osteoporosis

When it comes to exercise and bone health, either move it or lose it.

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If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis, adding exercise to your treatment regimen may seem a little daunting—and counterintuitive. You may be thinking: If my bones are fragile, shouldn’t I be *avoiding* physical activity?

In fact, the opposite is true. Exercise is crucial for both treating and preventing osteoporosis, a condition where the body loses too much or makes too little bone tissue.

Even though exercise with osteoporosis only modestly affects your bone mineral density, it has a huge effect on strength, flexibility, and balance—all of which keep you upright and sturdy. This can help prevent falls and potentially life-threatening fractures.

To understand how physical activity treats and prevents osteoporosis, we’ll first need to take a dive into the inner workings of your bones.

How Your Bones Work

Despite their ghoulish reputation, bones are actually a living tissue. Like many bodily processes, your bones continually renew themselves throughout your life, which keeps them—and you—strong and healthy.

Your bones are made of a calcium mineral, which makes them hard and white. This calcium mineral is embedded in a protein mesh of collagen, which makes the bones slightly flexible. If you cut a bone in half, you’d see that it’s not solid throughout. Bones have a solid outer layer, but look like a honeycomb inside. This makes them strong without being too heavy.

This honeycomb inside your bones is lined with bone cells. These cells renew the bone tissue in a cycle of breaking down and rebuilding, called bone remodeling. Bone remodeling ensures that older bone is replace with new, healthy bone, and damaged areas are repaired. Bone remodeling also allows your bones to get stronger in response to an increased load, a.k.a. exercise.

Exercising for bone health is much like exercising for muscle strength. To build muscle and get stronger, you need to do strength-training exercises. If you don’t work your muscles, they’ll become weaker. So, if you don’t exercise, both your bone health and muscle strength can deteriorate.

Exercises That Boost Bone Health

Even though just about any type of exercise is beneficial for your body  in some way, it’s a myth that all types of exercise are good for preventing and treating osteoporosis. (Here are more osteoporosis exercise myths to be aware of.)

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, there are two types of exercise that build and maintain strength and bone density: weight-bearing exercises and muscle-strengthening exercises.

Weight-bearing exercises are activities where you move against gravity. These include:

  • Dancing
  • Hiking
  • Stair climbing
  • Or high-impact aerobics.

If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you may need to avoid high-impact weight-bearing exercises. If you’re unable to do high-impact exercises, low-impact weight-bearing exercises may be a safe and effective way to keep bones healthy. (Always check with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program.) These include:

  • Using an elliptical machine
  • Using a stair-climbing machine
  • Fast walking

Muscle-strengthening exercises (also known as bodyweight exercises) are when you use your body or a weight as resistance against gravity. These include:

  • Lifting weights
  • Using resistance bands
  • Or doing exercises such as push-ups or squats.

Exercise is undoubtedly important in keeping bones healthy, but still, some precaution is necessary. “It’s important to exercise with osteoporosis, but you do need to be educated on what safe modifications you can make so that you continue to benefit,” says Pagano.

Try it out with these tips: