Osteoporosis and Exercise (cont.)

Equally important for older adults in terms of osteoporosis is the effect of exercise on the risk of falling. When individuals with osteoporosis fall, they typically break bones, and in fact, sometimes the bones are so brittle that they break before the person hits the ground; for example, just stepping off a curb could break a brittle bone in the hip, and then the individual falls as a result. People fall for many reasons, including poor balance, poor vision, decreased strength and range of motion, and cognitive impairments like dementia. Exercise can't help every factor, but studies show that exercises such as balance training (e.g., tai chi), leg strengthening, and flexibility training (e.g., yoga) can reduce the risk of falling in older adults.

It is important to note that the effects of exercise on bone density and falling in older adults may diminish if you become sedentary, so maintaining activity through one's lifetime is an essential step in maintaining healthy bones and reducing the risk of fractures.

As for which exercises are best for people with osteoporosis, the simple answer is:

    1. Weight-bearing exercises that cause force on the bones like jogging, stair climbing, and walking briskly
    2. Resistance exercises that involve the bones you are concerned about
    3. Balance exercises if you are an older adult

Research is clear that you need some force-loading or weight-bearing on bones to have any effect on density and strength, but caution should be taken with exercise when you have osteoporosis. You should avoid:

    1. Exercises that might increase the risk of falling
    2. Movements like twisting of the spine and bending from the waist
    3. High-impact activities like high-intensity aerobics or jumping
    4. Excessive weight during resistance exercise

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends the following exercises for bone health for different age groups:

For children and teens:

    Type: Impact activities, such as gymnastics, jumping (sometimes called plyometric training), and moderate-intensity resistance training; participation in sports that involve running and jumping like soccer and basketball (although they concede that research to prove this is lacking)
    Intensity: high, in terms of bone-loading forces; for safety reasons, resistance training should be moderate, equivalent to 60% of the maximum lift
    Frequency: at least three days per week
    Duration: 10-20 minutes (two times per day or more may be more effective)

For adults:

    Type: Weight-bearing endurance activities (tennis; stair climbing; jogging, at least intermittently during walking), activities that involve jumping (volleyball, basketball), and resistance exercise (weight lifting)
    Last Editorial Review: 12/14/2006


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