Exercise and Bone Health
Numerous studies attest to the effectiveness of exercise for promoting and maintaining bone density. Improving bone mass, strength, and balance can help decrease fracture risk. Women with osteoporosis or who have a family history of osteoporosis need specific information, however, before they start an exercise program, to ensure they get the most benefit from their regimen while avoiding possible harm. Here are some guidelines for you to review with your health care practitioner when formulating your exercise program.
Back extension exercises are excellent because they can relieve stress on the vertebrae and decrease vertebral fracture risk. They also help strengthen muscles of the back, which can in turn work against the kyphotic posture commonly seen with osteoporosis. Back flexion exercises or forward bending, however, can accentuate kyphotic posture and result in compression fractures to the spine. Excessive twisting or spinal rotation can also result in compression fractures. This means exercises you need to avoid include sit-ups, touching your toes, windmill toe touches, and any exercise equipment that applies flexion or twisting forces.
Both weight-bearing and resistance exercises stimulate bone development. With regard to resistance exercise, studies show that it is the weight of the load applied rather than the number of repetitions that is responsible for increasing bone density. Post-menopausal bone density responds particularly well to low-repetition, high-load activity. Perform at least one set of eight to ten repetitions and work toward three sets with a one to two minute rest in between each one. Gradually increase the weight you use when you are able to perform ten repetitions with ease. For optimal bone health, perform resistance exercises two to three times a week. Resistance exercise includes using free weights and the use of exercise machines.
Ideal weight bearing exercises include walking, dancing, and stair climbing. Brisk walking, but not leisurely walking, has been shown to promote bone density. Perform weight-bearing exercises at least three to five times a week. Avoid high-impact activities such as jumping, running, and high-impact aerobics.
Any exercise program for osteoporosis should target skeletal areas prone to fracture, that is, the spine, hips, and wrists. Increases in bone density are only maintained as long as the frequency and intensity of exercise is continued. Once you see improvement in your bone density from exercise, you need to continue at this level to maintain it.
Dr. Elizabeth Sutherland