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How Does Exercise Help With Osteoporosis?

Picture of Chris Dounis

Chris Dounis

Chris is an accredited exercise physiologist with over 15 years professional experience working with a wide range of clients.
Learn more about Chris here.

As we navigate the complexities of health and well-being, one condition that often goes undiscussed—until it directly impacts us or someone we know—is osteoporosis. This silent condition poses a risk to many, particularly as we age. It’s a sobering thought that something as seemingly sturdy as our skeleton can become so fragile.

In light of this, I would like to share insights on a important, yet often underutilised, weapon in the fight against osteoporosis: exercise. The evidence is clear: regular physical activity not only enhances overall health but plays a critical role in improving bone density and strength.

Throughout this article, we’ll look at the relationship between exercise and osteoporosis and how staying active can directly benefit your bone health. We’ll delve into the types of exercises best suited for those managing osteoporosis and explore how the adoption of specific exercises can form an effective program that supports and maintains bone health for people with osteoporosis.

Understanding Osteoporosis and Its Impact

Osteoporosis is a condition that’s often invisible until it isn’t. It silently and gradually weakens bones until they become fragile and more prone to fractures. To put it simply, it’s a disease that reduces bone density and deteriorates bone tissue, which in turn compromises bone strength.

Bones are dynamic structures made up of a hard outer shell and a spongy inner matrix, which undergo a process known as bone remodelling. This is where old bone is replaced by new bone in a balanced cycle that involves bone resorption and bone formation.

In osteoporosis, this balance is disrupted. The rate of resorption outpaces the rate of formation, leading to a decrease in bone density and strength. On a microscopic level, the structural integrity of bone is compromised; the honeycomb-like matrix within the bone becomes larger and more porous, weakening the overall structure and making it more susceptible to fractures, even from minor stresses and strains.

This skeletal weakening is of particular concern as it can significantly impair mobility and independence and even lead to life-threatening complications following fractures, such as hip breaks.

In Australia, osteoporosis is far from uncommon. It affects a substantial portion of the population, particularly those over the age of 50. According to Healthy Bones Australia, approximately 4.74 million people are estimated to have osteoporosis, with many more likely to have low bone density or osteopenia.

What’s more, the risk isn’t distributed evenly; women are disproportionately affected due to the rapid decline in estrogen levels during menopause, which can accelerate bone loss.

Why Exercise Matters for Osteoporosis

Why Exercise Matters for Osteoporosis

The significance of exercise in managing and preventing osteoporosis can’t be understated. At its core, osteoporosis involves the weakening of bones, and while this condition can seem daunting, the role of targeted physical activity is both powerful and empowering. Exercise is a proactive strategy that can influence the course of this bone condition positively.

The Science of Exercise and Bone Remodelling

Bone remodelling is a biological process where old bone tissue is continuously replaced by new. This process is crucial for bone health, allowing bones to adapt to stress and repair themselves.

In individuals with osteoporosis, this balance skews toward bone resorption, outpacing the formation of new bone and leading to a decrease in bone density and strength.
Exercise serves as a counterbalance to this process. When we engage in physical activity, especially weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises, we create mechanical stress on our bones.

This stress sends a signal to bone-forming cells to kick into gear, promoting the growth of new bone tissue. Consequently, regular exercise can help to slow down, halt, or even reverse the progression of bone loss, maintaining or improving bone density and reducing the risk of fractures.

Types of Exercise Beneficial for Osteoporosis

Various forms of physical activity play different roles in supporting and strengthening bones. Here, we discuss the three key categories of exercises that are beneficial for individuals with osteoporosis.

Weight-Bearing Exercises

Weight Bearing Exercises can help prevent osteoporosis

A weight-bearing exercise requires your muscles and bones to work against gravity. This type of exercise is critical because it promotes bone formation and can help prevent bone loss. Examples of weight-bearing exercises include:

  • Walking and hiking
  • Stair climbing
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Dancing
  • Tennis or other racquet sports
  • Jogging, for those who can safely tolerate higher impact activities

Regular engagement in weight-bearing activities has been associated with maintaining or potentially increasing bone mineral density. The mechanical stress imposed on the bone structure during these activities stimulates osteoblastic activity — the process where new bone tissue is formed — which improves bone density over time.

Muscle-Strengthening Exercises

Muscle Strengthening for Osteoporosis

Muscle-strengthening exercises, also known as progressive resistance training, involve the use of free weights, weight machines, resistance bands, or one’s own body weight to build shoulder, leg, and abdominal muscles. These exercises improve bone health because muscles pull against bones during these activities, which enhances their strength. Examples include:

  • Lifting weights
  • Band-resistance exercises
  • Body weight exercises such as squats and push-ups
  • Pilates

A strategic muscle-strengthening program can also improve balance and coordination, which is essential in reducing the likelihood of falls, a common and dangerous risk for people with osteoporosis because it often leads to broken bones.

Balance Exercises

Improving balance is a critical aspect of an exercise program for individuals with osteoporosis because good balance can decrease the risk of falling. Balance exercises help to improve posture, muscle strength, and coordination, all of which can contribute to better stability. The best osteoporosis exercises include:

  • Tai chi
  • Yoga
  • Balance ball exercises
  • Heel-to-toe walking
  • Standing on one foot

Balance exercise routines should be carefully designed to match the capabilities and safety requirements of the individual, especially since balance may deteriorate with age.

Tailoring Your Exercise Routine: A Step-by-Step Guide

Embracing an active lifestyle is a cornerstone of osteoporosis management, yet the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is far from ideal when it comes to exercise.

Each person’s body is unique, and when dealing with a condition like osteoporosis, it’s crucial to have an exercise routine that’s tailored to your individual health profile and goals. This is where the expertise of an exercise physiologist becomes irreplaceable.

1. Start with a Solid Foundation

Before embarking on any new exercise program, particularly for those with osteoporosis or at risk of the condition, it’s important to undergo a thorough evaluation.

If you’ve recently had a bone density scan, an exercise physiologist at EP360 can help you understand your result, assess your current fitness level, and overall health to develop a customised exercise plan. They understand the intricacies of the disease and can establish a regimen that safely and effectively improves bone health.

2. Build Your Routine Gradually

A tailored exercise program begins at a comfortable level and progressively increases in intensity. Starting slow is essential, as it allows your body to adapt without placing undue stress on your bones and muscles. Over time, as your strength and endurance improve, the intensity and complexity of exercises can be adjusted.

Exercises may include a combination of:

  • Low-impact weight-bearing exercise that is kind to the joints but effective for bone strengthening, such as brisk walking or low-impact aerobics.
  • Muscle-strengthening exercise using free weights or resistance bands help to improve muscle mass and strengthen bones.
  • Balance exercise that enhances stability and reduces the risk of falls, such as standing on one leg or using balance boards.
  • Stretching exercise to maintain range of motion and prevent injury, such as yoga.

3. Be Consistent

Consistency in your exercise routine is paramount. Regular activity is the most effective way to stimulate bone remodelling and yield the benefits of exercise. By keeping to a well-planned schedule, you solidify the gains made in bone density and ensure continuous progress.

4. Adapt to the Ebb and Flow of Life

Life is unpredictable, and there may be times when your routine is disrupted due to illness, travel, or other commitments. An exercise physiologist can help you adapt your program to meet the changing demands of your life, ensuring that you remain active and continue to prioritise your bone health, even during busier or more challenging periods.

Overcoming Common Barriers to Exercise

Exercise for Osteoporosis

Acknowledging and confronting the barriers to regular exercise is a critical step for those managing osteoporosis. It’s natural to face challenges along the way—whether they’re concerned about exercising with pain and mobility issues or simply finding the motivation to get started.

Here, we’ll address some of these barriers and provide strategies to overcome them, ensuring exercise becomes a viable and integral part of your bone health management.

Addressing Pain and Mobility Issues

For many individuals, particularly those with osteoporosis-related conditions, the thought of exercise may evoke fear of pain or injury. However, avoiding exercise can lead to a detrimental cycle of decreased activity, muscle weakness, and further bone loss. That’s why it’s essential to work with a healthcare professional to understand pain management techniques that can be applied during exercise.

Establishing a Manageable Routine

Finding an exercise routine that fits into your lifestyle and is sustainable over a long term is key. Consider setting realistic goals that provide a sense of achievement without being overwhelming and creating a routine that blends seamlessly into your daily schedule, perhaps a walk during your lunch break or a yoga session in the evening.

Overcoming Psychological Hurdles

Mental barriers such as lack of confidence or fear of falling can impede the path to regular exercise. Overcoming these challenges starts with building a support network that encourages and supports your fitness goals as well as celebrating small victories to boost confidence and reinforce the habit.

To Wrap Up

Exercise remains a cornerstone of osteoporosis treatment — a natural medicine that can help rebuild and maintain bone strength, improve balance, and increase muscle support.
By engaging in weight-bearing, muscle-strengthening, and balance exercises, you create a physical foundation that is more resistant to the ravages of osteoporosis.

As you consider integrating these insights into your daily life, know that you don’t have to do it alone. Your journey to stronger bones and a healthier life is just a session away. Book an appointment now to connect with our exercise physiologists and take a proactive step toward managing your osteoporosis with confidence!

Disclaimer

This series does not serve as specific medical advice, and should be viewed as educational ONLY. Chronic pain is an individual and complex experience, and as such, any treatment needs to be tailored to the individual. Always seek advice from a relevant medical professional before undertaking any treatment or exercise program.

 

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