You have been diagnosed with Osteoporosis. Your doctor told you to exercise. Now what?

By: Meredith Sena, P.T., M.S.P.T.

You already walk for 30 minutes a day, swim two times per week, and take an exercise class at the gym every Saturday. Isn’t that enough? Even though you are very active you may not be doing the right type of exercise to improve your bone health.  An exercise program to prevent and treat osteoporosis includes weight bearing exercises, moderate impact exercises, and balance exercises.

Weight bearing exercises promote bone growth. Both gravitational force and the force of muscles pulling on the bones cause change to the bone shape, density, and overall quality. Weight bearing exercises can include exercises done with weights, exercises done in a standing position, on all fours or in a plank or modified plank position. The exercises should be challenging, so you will need to choose a weight that will take effort to lift but not cause you pain. Examples of exercises done in a standing position are walking, jogging, stair master, elliptical machine, and many exercise classes. Biking, swimming and rowing are not the best exercises for bone health. To improve weight bearing through your arms you can try exercises on all fours, planks, and push-ups (on the floor or against the wall).

Many people avoid exercises that involve impact thinking that they may hurt themselves. Exercises that involve impact can take the principles of weight bearing exercises one step further, due to the increased forces on the bones during these activities.  While these exercises may be intimidating at first, you may discover that they can be fun. Jogging, squat jumps, jumping off a low step are all examples of impact exercises that are safe for most people. Of course there are circumstances such as arthritis, high risk of a fragility fracture, and poor balance that would make these exercises inappropriate for some people.

Balance is a very important part of an osteoporosis exercise program. Many people just accept the fact that they have poor balance and do not realize that with consistent work they can usually improve their balance. Others do not appreciate the fact that if they do not work on their balance it will eventually start to decline. Good balance is especially important for people with osteoporosis because a fall can easily result in a fracture.  There are a wide variety of balance exercise depending on the level that you are starting from. Balance exercises can include standing with your feet together, standing with one foot in front of the other as in a heel toe position, standing on a piece of foam, standing on one leg, standing in any of these positions with your eyes closed, or while doing upper body movements.

Starting an exercise program or changing the program that you are used to may seem overwhelming. With the guidance of a skilled Physical Therapist you can learn how to incorporate a safe, comprehensive program into your lifestyle. Starting an osteoporosis program does not mean you have to stop biking or swimming, but it does mean that you need to complement these activities with weight bearing exercises. It also does not mean that you will have to spend all of your free time exercising. You can incorporate many of the exercises into your daily activities. Most people find that taking 30 min per day to focus on themselves and improving their health can be very rewarding both physically and mentally. Before starting a program for osteoporosis prevention or treatment, it is important to consult a health care professional that specializes in this area to ensure that the program is safe and appropriate for you.

Meredith Sena, P.T. is a member of Flagstaff Bone and Joint’s Therapy Department.  She works with patients of all ages and backgrounds.  She has extensive experience treating patients pre- and postoperatively, as well as those with chronic pain.  Meredith is also a member of the Bone Health Team at Flagstaff Bone and Joint.  The Bone Health Team treat patients who have been diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis.  “Our goal is to identify patients at risk or who have osteoporosis and initiate treatment and improve bone quality, improve strength, and educate patients about steps to reduce fall risks.”