Exercise & Bone Health

Physical activity and exercise are very important for maintaining bone health throughout life. The skeleton is designed to bear the weight of your body and to provide support for your muscles.  Bones and muscles are meant to be used daily. If you conduct a sedentary life and don’t exercise your muscles will slowly lose strength and shrink; likewise, sitting or lying most of the day without walking or exercising will cause your bones to lose mineralized tissue and strength. Weak muscles and bones will increase the risk of a fracture.

There are two types of exercise that you can perform to keep your bones and muscles healthy: weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening.

Weight-bearing Exercises

These exercises provide your bones with the right amount of force by making your body move against gravity while staying upright. Weight-bearing exercises can be either high-impact or low-impact.

High-impact weight-bearing exercises are the best for building and maintaining strong bones.  However, if you have had a vertebral compression or other fractures, or are at high risk of fractures, high-impact exercises may not be suitable for you. Ask your health care professionals for advice.  Here are some examples of high-impact weight-bearing exercises:

  • Jogging
  • Running outside or on a treadmill
  • Dancing
  • Hiking
  • Stair climbing
  • High-impact aerobics

Low-impact weight-bearing exercises are a good alternative for building and maintaining strong bones if you cannot perform high-impact exercises.  Examples are:

  • Fast walking, outside or on a treadmill
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Using elliptical or stair-stepping machines

We recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of high- or low-impact weight-bearing exercise at least 3 times a week for everyone. In general, the more you exercise, the better, but please, keep in mind that if you are at high risk of fractures exercise alone is not sufficient to significantly decrease fracture risk. Also, prolonged and frequent exercise, such as marathon running, may subject your bones to excessive, repetitive stress that can lead to “stress fractures” of the legs and other metabolic problems.

Muscle-strengthening exercises

These activities move your body against gravity or a resistance.  By exercising muscles, you indirectly improve bone health. However, if you are at high risk of fracture some of these exercises, such as weight lifting, are not recommended. Always seek the advice of a health care professional, a physical therapist or a personal trainer before engaging in muscle-strengthening exercises. Examples include:

  • Lifting weights or using weight machines (use caution if at high risk of fractures)
  • Using elastic exercise bands
  • Lifting your own body weight

Other forms of exercise, such as Yoga and Pilates can improve muscle strength but certain positions may not be advisable for patients with osteoporosis or with a previous fracture.