Exercise for Healthy Bones

Bone is living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger. You know that your muscles get bigger and stronger when you use them. Bones are similar. They get stronger and denser when you make them work. And "work" for bones means handling impact, the weight of your body or more resistance. We know the most about two types of exercises important for building and maintaining bone density. These are weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises:

Weight-Bearing Exercises

These exercises include activities that make you move against gravity while staying upright. Weight-bearing exercises can be high-impact or low-impact.

High-impact weight-bearing exercises help build bones and keep them strong. If you have broken a bone due to osteoporosis or are at risk of breaking a bone, you may need to avoid high-impact exercises. People who are frail or who fall easily should also avoid high-impact exercises. If you're not sure, you should check with your healthcare provider. Some examples of high-impact weight-bearing exercises are:

  • Dancing.
  • Doing high-impact aerobics.
  • Hiking.
  • Jogging/running.
  • Jumping rope.
  • Stair climbing.
  • Tennis.

Low-impact weight-bearing exercises can also help keep bones strong and are safer for people who cannot do high-impact exercises. If you can't do high-impact weight-bearing activities, try lower-impact ones. Some examples of low-impact weight-bearing exercises are:

  • Using elliptical training machines.
  • Doing low-impact aerobics.
  • Using stair-step machines.
  • Fast walking on a treadmill or outside.

Muscle-Strengthening Exercises

These exercises include activities where you move your body, a weight or some other resistance against gravity. They are also known as resistance exercises.

  • Lifting weights.
  • Using elastic exercise bands.
  • Using weight machines.
  • Lifting your own body weight.

Yoga and pilates can also improve strength, balance and flexibility. However, certain positions may not be safe for people with osteoporosis or those at increased risk of broken bones. For example, exercises that have you bend forward may increase the chance of breaking a bone in the spine. A physical therapist should be able to help you learn which exercises are safe and appropriate for you.

Non-Weight-Bearing, Non-Impact Exercises

These exercises can be part of a well-rounded exercise program, but do not benefit the bones. If you like these activities, try to add other exercises that are good for your bone health. Some of these exercises include:

  • Bicycling/indoor cycling.
  • Deep-water walking.
  • Stretching and flexibility exercises.
  • Swimming.
  • Water aerobics.

Starting a New Exercise Program

If you haven't exercised regularly for a while, check with your healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise program—particularly if you have health problems such as heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure. If you're at high risk of breaking a bone, you should work with a physical therapist to develop a safe exercise program.

Once you have your health care provider's approval, start slowly. If you've already broken bones in the spine because of osteoporosis, be very careful to avoid activities that require reaching down, bending forward, rapid twisting motions, heavy lifting and those that increase your chance of a fall.

How much exercise should I do?

Weight-bearing exercises should be done for a total of 30 minutes on most days of the week.

Aim for 30 minutes at one time or break it up during the day. For example, 3 sessions for 10 minutes each will provide the same benefits to your bones as one 30-minute session.

Balance, posture and functional exercises can be done every day.
Awareness of posture and safe movements should be done continuously.

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