Can exercise prevent osteoporosis?
Bingfen Grace Yu, MD, is a board-certified physician in internal medicine at Banner Estrella Medical Center.
Question: Can exercise help prevent osteoporosis? If so, which exercises are the most effective?
Answer: Yes it can. In fact, recent studies have shown that the risk of osteoporosis is lower for people who are active, especially for those who do weight-bearing exercises at least three times a week. For those unfamiliar with this disease, osteoporosis is a progressive thinning of the bones that occurs over time for most people. Although it is mostly seen in women, osteoporosis can also affect men as they age.
How does exercise help prevent osteoporosis? It’s simple really: Muscle pulling on bone builds bone, so weight-bearing exercise builds denser, stronger bones. It’s never too soon to add weight-bearing exercises into your weekly exercise routine.
In fact, the more bone mass you build before age 30, the better off you will be during the years of gradual bone loss. It has also been shown that exercise can help you maintain bone density later in life.
The best exercises for building bone density include:
- step aerobics
- racquetball or tennis
- any other activities that force your muscles to work against gravity.
It’s best to combine several different weight-bearing exercises, increasing resistance or weights as you build strength, for the greatest benefit. If you can do 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise daily, you’ll not only benefit your bones, you’ll make your heart stronger, and increase overall muscle strength, coordination, and balance. Those 30 minutes don't need to be done all at once, either. It's just as good for you to do 10 minutes at a time. Lastly, do your best to make exercise fun; you’re more likely to continue doing it for life.
If you already have osteoporosis, you might wonder whether you should exercise at all. The answer for most people is “yes.” But first talk to your doctor to learn what types of exercises you can safely do to preserve bone and to strengthen your back and hips.
Keep in mind, however, that exercise alone can't prevent or cure osteoporosis. Sufficient calcium intake is also very important. It’s recommended that adults get at least 800 to 1,200 mg per day of calcium from their diet. If you don't get enough calcium from your diet, your body will take the calcium it needs from your bones, causing them to become weak and brittle.