If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia, you may be concerned about the impact of exercise on your bones. If you are active and enjoy exercising, there is no reason why you should stop if you have osteoporosis, says the National Osteoporosis Society. Regular exercise will strengthen your bones, improve coordination, posture and flexibility, and maintain a sense of wellbeing and independence.
“Incorporating exercise into your daily routine is the easiest way to make an impact on osteoporosis,” says chartered physiotherapist Paula Coates. “Anything from marching on the spot to skipping, or simply jumping off the bottom step each time you come down the stairs will be beneficial.” Coates also recommends gentle bodyweight exercises such as squats and lunges, as well as stretches for the whole spine. If you have osteoporosis, she recommends 30 minutes of exercise two to three times a week to help manage pain and slow disease progression.
The first step is to ask your doctor for advice on exercise regimes for osteoporosis, as you need to be assessed for fitness and bone density, says the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. You can then adapt your current regime accordingly. Hiring a personal trainer who specialises in osteoporosis will provide one-to-one advice, support and motivation, and he/she will be able to devise an exercise plan that is tailored to your current state of fitness, bone health and long-term goals. The NHS now employs health trainers in the UK, who offer free advice on health and fitness.
The next step is to update your kit – invest in some good quality trainers and fitness wear for the type of exercise you prefer to do. Looking good is part of feeling good, and this will motivate you to workout at the gym or outdoors. If you plan to exercise outside during winter invest in some reflective footwear and clothing so that you are visible.
The Mayo Foundation recommends the following three types of exercise for osteoporosis:
- Strength training exercise: This is any type of exercise that improves bone and muscle strength, and it is important to focus on the arms and upper back, as your back is vital to most movements. This type of exercise also slows down the loss of minerals. Try free weights, resistance bands, weight lifting, and underwater aerobic exercise. Osteoporosis can cause compression fractures in the spine and degeneration of posture so it is important to include exercises that strengthen the upper back and shoulder muscles so that there is less strain on your bones.
- Weight-bearing exercises: This is where your body supports your body weight – gentle aerobic activity, walking, dancing, climbing stairs, training machines, lifting weights, and light gardening. The cardiovascular benefits will strengthen your heart and improve circulation.
- Flexibility exercises: Good flexibility, posture and balance will help prevent falls. Pilates, Tai’Chi and yoga will improve all of these. Having supple joints helps to loosen your chest and stomach muscles, which encourages an open and relaxed posture. It’s good practice to stretch properly at the end of your workout to help you cool down. This ensures your muscles are already warmed up. The Mayo Foundation recommends avoiding stretches that flex the spine or make you bend from the waist, as these put excessive strain on the vertebrae, and can increase the risk of compression fracture. Ask your doctor, physiotherapist or a qualified exercise coach for guidance on this.
Exercises to Avoid
If you have osteoporosis, you need to avoid high impact exercises such as running, jogging and jumping, as these can increase spinal compression and encourage fractures if the bones are weak. It is also wise to avoid excessive and unexpected movements such as yoga twists, complicated dance routines, tennis, golf, or using a rowing machine at the gym. In general, stick to controlled types of exercise that don’t put excessive stress on your bones and joints.
Choose activities that you enjoy and you will be motivated to stick to them. Finding a fitness buddy is an added social benefit. Exercise doesn’t have to be boring and hard work – housework, shopping and sex all count towards your daily quota. A regular routine is vital if you have osteoporosis to avoid degeneration of the bones, and to help rebuild strength. Keep an exercise diary to chart your progress and set achievable daily goals.