Osteoporosis and Exercise

One of my favorite quotes is “Movement can replace many drugs, but no drug can replace movement.”

Exercise is the key in the prevention and treatment of many diseases. Exercising has been shown to improve your cardiovascular (heart) system, increase muscular strength, improve the health of your brain, and improve your mobility. But did you know that exercising can even build stronger bones?

Osteoporosis and osteopenia can be prevented and treated with proper exercising and proper nutrition.

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is defined as decreased bone mass resulting in an increased risk for fractures (1). An estimated ten million Americans over 50 years old are diagnosed with osteoporosis. An astounding 80% of those affected are women (1,5). About 34 million women over 50 have been diagnosed with osteopenia, or low bone mass, a precursor to osteoporosis (5). While a small decrease in bone density is normal in the aging process, osteoporosis occurs when there is an abnormal imbalance between bone break down and bone repair.

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Our bones are constantly breaking down and repairing themselves. When our bones are “stressed,” through our daily movements, our body cleans up the older, broken down bone and lays down new, healthy bone.

Osteoporosis occurs when our body breaks down bone too rapidly, or does not place down enough new bone.

We have two types of bone: cortical bone (thick outside wall) and trabecular bone (interior bone). Our inner bone stores calcium and if we are not consuming enough calcium in our diets, both bone types becomes thinner and weaker. Osteoporosis can affect anyone, however Caucasian and Asian women, thinner individuals, smokers, and those whole regularly consume alcohol are all at increased risk for having osteoporosis.

How can Exercise Help?

Women reach their peak bone mass between ages 30-35(1). That means women over 50 particularly need to start focusing building your bone health. Many studies have found that weight-bearing and resistance exercise can improve health and even REVERSE bone loss (2).

Resistance exercise uses our muscles to pull on the bones (stressing them). The stress to the bone stimulates the body build new healhty bone. In addition, regular exercise will improve overall strength and balance, reducing the risk of falling.

Where to Start

Walking is a safe form of exercise for all ages and promotes bone health.

Aside from osteoporosis, walking can provide a huge benefit to our general health. Supplementing walking with core exercises is also helpful. In women who have diminishing bone health, the process typically starts in the spine. It’s why a good bone health program will focus core and hip strength to maintain bone density in the spine.

One great core exercise to start with is the “bird dog.”

The Bird Dog

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Assume the starting position on your hands and knees, tightening your stomach muscles to keep your spine straight.

Begin by extending one arm out at a time not allowing your body to tilt. Hold for a count of five, then repeat to the opposite side. Repeat five to ten times on each side.

Once that is easy, progress by extending one leg at a time not allowing your pelvis to drop. Use the same hold and repetitions. To challenge yourself even further, extend your arm and opposite leg at the same time, while keeping your spine straight through the whole exercise.

Walking and the bird dog are only a start. There are many exercises to start that can have a drastic impact on your walking, posture, and bone strength.

If you’re interested in learning more and developing a plan to build stronger bones and a better life, consider an appointment with one of Physical Therapists today. We accept all major insurances and no referral is necessary to get started. Click the link below to schedule your free discovery visit.

1. Aisenbrey J. Exercise in the prevention and management of osteoporosis. Physical Therapy Journal. July 1987; 1100-1104.
2. Dohrn I, Stahle A, Roaldsen K. “You have to keep moving, be active’: Perceptions and experiences of habitual physical activity in older women with osteoporosis. Physical Therapy Journal. March 2016; 96(3): 361-370.
3. MacKinnon J. Osteoporosis: A review. Physical Therapy Journal. October 1988; 68(10):1533-1540.
4. Palombaro K, Black J, Buchbinder D, Jette D. Effectiveness of exercise in managing osteoporosis in women postmenopause. Physical Therapy Journal. August 2013; 93(8):1021-1025.
5. Perry S, Downey P. Fracture risk and prevention: A multidimensional approach. Physical Therapy Journal. January 2012; 92(1): 164-178.



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