Osteoporosis is a debilitating disease which affects nearly 55% of the U.S. population over the age of 50. Bone is living tissue and osteoporosis causes bones to thin over time and increases the risk of fractures. Studies found that an exercise program including weight-bearing exercises, strength and resistance training and flexibility exercises resulted in an increased ability to undertake daily activities, decreased back pain, increased general health and decreased the risk of falling. A diagnosis of osteoporosis is not necessarily the end of an active life style. With a proper exercise prescription and expert guidance osteo-patients are able to live active, full lives.

Some of the most effective osteoporosis exercise types are:

  • Weight-bearing exercises: walking, jogging, playing tennis, dancing
  • Balance exercises: Tai Chi, yoga (modified)
  • Resistance exercises: free weights, weight machines, stretch bands
  • Riding a stationary bicycle & using rowing machines

Exercise programs should be established according to your individual diagnoses, medical history, and ability level. Your exercise program should specifically target posture, balance, gait, coordination, and hip and trunk stabilization.

Weight-bearing exercises should be the core of your exercise program, as they are considered the best form of exercise for osteoporosis. These exercises force the body to work against gravity while the body’s weight is supported by the feet and legs. This gravitational force helps to build and maintain the thickness or density of the bone. High impact exercises such as jogging, running, and jumping, can put too much stress on the spine, hips, and legs, potentially leading to fractures in already weakened bones, so don’t push yourself to hard. Consider gentler weight-bearing activities such as walking, dancing, and low-impact aerobics.

Example exercise:

  • Walking for 30 minutes 5 times per week
  • 2 to 5 times will include interval training, i.e. walk for 2-3 minutes at a faster pace and then slow down to normal pace for 6-8 minutes, then repeat.
  • Group Tai Chi Chuan: increases endurance, balance, and stability.
  • Modification: Perform cardio exercises or walk in a pool.

Balance exercises such as Tai Chi are low-impact, weight-bearing exercises that strengthens bones and can slow bone loss. Tai Chi improves posture, balance, strength, and flexibility, stamina, and muscle tone. It is both a preventive and complementary therapy for chronic pain, arthritis, and osteoporosis. People with limited mobility, even those in wheelchairs, can successfully learn and use Tai Chi. Studies show that older adults who practice Tai Chi have a 47% decrease in falls. Tai Chi also reduces the hip fracture rate by 25% compared to those who do not practice it.

Yoga can be extremely beneficial in maintaining or improving muscle strength, restoring function and relieving pain. But be careful, certain common yoga poses have the potential for significant harm. Many exercises and activities such as yoga, Pilates, tennis, and golf may need to be avoided or adjusted because they often involve twisting and bending motions.

Strength and resistance training are also recommended as part of exercise programs for osteoporosis. This type of exercise forces the body to work against the force of another object. The more muscles are strengthened, the more force is exerted on the bones, thereby strengthening the bones. Although swimming and water exercise are not weight-bearing exercises, they can improve cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength. People with severe osteoporosis who are at high risk of bone fractures may find that swimming or water exercise is their preferred activity.

Example exercise:

  • Front shoulder raise with resistance bands, standing (8-10 reps) *2-3 times per week
  • Lateral shoulder raise with resistance bands, standing (8-10 reps) *2-3 times per week
  • Biceps curls with resistance bands, standing (8-10 reps) *2-3 times per week
  • Triceps extension with resistance bands, standing (8-10 reps) *2-3 times per week
  • Free body squats with toe raises against a wall or holding a chair
  • Modification: Use water bottles for resistance, Perform exercises seated on a comfortable chair with a backrest and feet are flat on the ground, Perform resistance exercises in a pool.

Flexibility can be achieved through stretching, and helps the body to move more easily and help reduce the risk of falling and injuries. Stretching exercises, such as Gastro, Soleus, Quad, Hamstring, and Chest/Bicep stretches, are recommended to help build flexibility and to improve posture by combating medially rotated shoulders, chin protrusion, Thoracic Kyphosis (excess curvature of the upper back), and loss of Lumbar Lordosis (excessive curvature of lower back). However, be careful not to over flex of the spine. Dynamic abdominal exercises like sit-ups and excessive trunk flex can cause vertebral crush fractures.

Example exercise:

  • 10 minute stand-in-place warm-up (walking in place, marching in place with arms swinging from shoulder, side steps, and biceps and triceps curl and extension), followed by total body stretching (arms, legs, lower back). This is done 5-7 days / week.
  • Modification: Warm up with chair exercises and stretch while seated.

For any exercise program to be successful it is important that they are done regularly. One way to be sure you stay motivated is to exercise with a group. Having a pleasant and natural environment where you feel safe can also provide an opportunity for social interaction, which may reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Here are some things to look for if you choose to exercise at a local fitness facility:

Treadmills, bikes, and elliptical machines:
1. Easy to read display panels and instructions
2. Slow starting treadmills with long hand rails
3. Emergency stop buttons or clips
4. Seat and arm adjustments
5. Equipment that is gentle on joints

Strength equipment should have features including:
1. Simple and easy operation
2. Easy entry and exiting abilities
3. Easy adjustments
4. The ability to change resistance from a seated position
5. Simple and easy to read instructions and diagrams
6. Low starting resistance

Special fitness program availability:
1. Screenings or assessments
2. Staff’s availability to work one-on-one with you about your needs
3. Exercise specialists trained in older adults and osteoporosis prescription

Additional facility features you should consider:
• Transportation services to and from the center
• Easy and safe accessibility from the parking lot to the facility
• Adequate lighting
• Nonslip flooring
• Elevator access
• Accessibility using a wheelchair or walker
• Access to handrails throughout the center.

The best exercise regime is one that begins at an early age and promotes bone health. However, when a diagnosis of osteoporosis had been made, regular exercise can reduce the likelihood of bone fractures. Remember to avoid any exercise that presents a risk of falling, or high-impact exercises that may cause fractures. And have your doctor periodically re-evaluated your exercise routine and make adjustments to accommodate any changes in your ability level.

To learn more about how Navamaze can help you establish a safe and regular exercise program, contact us.