It’s a myth that having osteoporosis means you need to avoid physical activity. Weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises help keep bones strong by maintaining bone density, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. (Here are more myths about exercise and osteoporosis.)
But not all exercises are safe or recommended for people with osteoporosis. “Some exercises that are not safe for osteoporosis increase the risk of falls and fractures,” says Joan Pagano, exercise physiologist in New York City. “It’s very important that you know how to modify exercises to make them safe for osteoporosis.”
Instead of toe touches, try hip hinges.
Whether standing or sitting, toe touches just aren’t good for the back for someone with low bone density. “If you have osteoporosis in the spine, [toe touches] may cause more fractures,” says Pagano.
Alternatively, you can stretch similar muscles with a hip hinge. According to Pagano, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and put a slight bend in the knees (so they aren’t locked). Keeping your spine straight, hinge your upper body forward until your upper and lower body form a 90-degree angle. Don’t reach your arms toward your toes; keep them in line with your upper body.
Hip hinges can be helpful for everyday activities like making the bed, folding laundry, doing dishes, or even brushing your teeth.
Instead of jumping jacks, try step jacks.
This classic exercise is risky for people with osteoporosis. “Landing can cause jarring to the bones of the hip and the spine,” says Pagano.
While a traditional jumping jack involves jumping outward with both legs at once, a step jack moves one foot at a time. Keep one leg on the floor while tapping the other foot to the side. After bringing that foot back to the center, repeat with the other foot.
As for the arms, raise both arms to shoulder level (not all the way above the head) for each outward step.
Instead of lifting weights over the head, try front raises.
Lifting weights over the head puts too much pressure on the spine, which can increase the risk of fractures. Front raises help you strengthen the arms in a safer way.
Stand with the feet about shoulder-width apart and hold a light weight in each hand. You can even use cans of soup or beans. “The amount of weight is determined by how well you can maintain your form as you’re completing eight to 12 repetitions,” says Pagano. The goal is to work your way up to five-pound weights.
Pull your shoulder blades together to stabilize the back, and then raise the arms in front of you to shoulder level. Keep the arms straight but not stiff.
Instead of crunches, try forearm planks.
Crunches may be dangerous for osteoporosis, but core work is still valuable. “One of the best exercises to swap out for crunches and bicycle twists is a forearm plank,” says Pagano.
Planks are often done on the hands, but these are done on the forearms to take some of the pressure off the joints. Place the elbows directly beneath the shoulders and rest your hands in loose fists.
“You can start with a half-plank from your knees, and then progress to a full plank. Your feet are about hip-width apart,” says Pagano. “Your body should be in a straight line from your head to your ankles, and you hover in this position, engaging your abdominals and your glutes in order to hold this position.” You could start with 10 seconds, and then try to build up to a minute.
“If you ever have a question about whether or not an exercise is safe for you with osteoporosis, it’s a good idea to consult with a physical therapist, a trainer who has expertise, or another healthcare professional who can guide you,” says Pagano.