Exercising with Osteoporosis: The Best Exercises To Stay Strong

Last Updated:

For many people, getting a diagnosis of osteoporosis can feel like a death sentence. 

The fear of fracture is very real, and the very notion that you might exercise can sound not only improbable, but also ill-advised.

After all, high-impact sports like running and jumping can put a lot of stress on the bones and there’s additional risk in some sports such as falling off a bike or holding a challenging yoga pose.

In light of these risks and others, is it safe to exercise with osteoporosis? What is the best type of exercise for osteoporosis?

In this guide, we will discuss exercising with osteoporosis, including tips for exercising with osteoporosis and the best types of exercise you can do with osteoporosis.

We will cover: 

  • Can You Exercise With Osteoporosis?
  • Benefits of Exercising With Osteoporosis 
  • What Type of Exercise Should You Do With Osteoporosis?
  • Getting Started Exercising With Osteoporosis
  • Best Types of Exercise for Osteoporosis
  • Exercises to Avoid With Osteoporosis

Let’s jump in.

A hand writing osteoporosis with a pen.

Can You Exercise With Osteoporosis?

Whether you’re a runner, swimmer, or avid athlete who works out consistently or haven’t been active for some time, one of the first questions you may ask your doctor upon getting a diagnosis of osteoporosis is, “Can I exercise with osteoporosis?”

The good news is that the answer is yes, you can exercise with osteoporosis.

Although you may need to make some modifications to the type of exercise you are doing or the way you are doing it, it should be possible to be very active with osteoporosis.

In fact, exercising can actually slow the progression of your disease, strengthen your muscles, and reduce the risk of fractures.

It’s never too late to start being active. You can always start small and build up slowly over time.

A physical therapist helping a patient exercising.

Benefits of Exercising With Osteoporosis 

In addition to the physical and mental health benefits of exercise for anyone in good health, exercising with osteoporosis has specific benefits pertinent to the health condition itself.

Benefits of exercise for osteoporosis include the following:

  • Increasing bone density, which can slow the progression of the disease and even reverse osteoporosis.
  • Increasing muscle strength, which also increases bone density and can reduce the risk of falls.
  • Improving balance, which reduces the risk of slipping, tripping, or falling.
  • Reducing the risk and symptoms of other comorbid medical conditions, which can otherwise accelerate the disease.
  • Increasing independence, function, and confidence.
  • Improving coordination, focus, and brain function.
People jogging on trampolines.

What Type of Exercise Should You Do With Osteoporosis?

According to the Royal Osteoporosis Society in the UK, there are three different goals for exercising with osteoporosis: increasing bone and muscle strength, improving balance, and improving the health of your spine.

Therefore, your osteoporosis exercise plan should have exercises that target all three goals or categories.

However, depending on your current physical activity level, risk factors, and disease presentation, one or two of these goals may be more or less important than the others.

For example, if you are often falling, focusing on exercises that improve your balance and flexibility should be your priority.

Once you have increased your stability and balance, you can add more challenging exercises that build bone and muscle strength, such as brisk walking or jogging on a rebounder.

Two people walking down the road.

Getting Started Exercising With Osteoporosis 

If you were currently working out at the time you received your diagnosis of osteoporosis, you should speak with your doctor or physical therapist about whether you can continue your current exercise routine or if you need to modify it.

If you are just starting to work out, begin with activities that you feel comfortable and confident doing rather than taking on something new.

For example, if you like swimming or walking, these activities can be great places to start.

Gradually increase your duration and intensity until you reach your daily targets. Doing too much too soon can cause excessive muscle soreness and will increase the risk of injury.

It’s usually best to start by doing frequent bouts of very short durations.

For instance, rather than trying to do a 30-minute workout all at once, do three 10-minute mini workout sessions per day.

A person swimming laps.

This not “frequent-but-short” approach not only prevents the risk of falling from overdoing it and getting fatigued, but also gives your body three different bouts of stimulus that signal bone building.

Every time you work out and use your muscles or place impact on your bones, you signal your body to build more bone.

Therefore, the more often you exercise with osteoporosis, the better.

Wear supportive shoes and comfortable clothing to reduce the risk of falling.

It’s also important to warm up thoroughly and do some gentle stretching before each workout before you move into more vigorous activity.

Warming up reduces the likelihood of pulling a muscle or tripping and falling due to sluggish coordination, stiff joints, or tight muscles.

After your workout, cool down and then stretch to increase flexibility and reduce soreness and stiffness.

A person doing a quad stretch.

Best Types of Exercise for Osteoporosis 

The most effective bone-strengthening exercise plan for osteoporosis includes weight-bearing with impact and strengthening exercises. 

Exercises to Promote Bone and Muscle Strength 

It’s natural to think that you need to do non-impact or low-impact exercise with osteoporosis in order to decrease your risk of stress fractures, but weight-bearing exercise with impact is actually the best way to build bone.

Examples include brisk walking, incline walking, stair climbing, jumping jacks, jogging, running on a rebounder (mini trampoline), stamping, marching, tennis, volleyball, skipping, Zumba, dancing, step aerobics, and jumping rope.

The recommendations for exercising with osteoporosis are to get at least 50 “impacts” per day (jumps, hops, skips, bounds, etc.), though more is better.

However, it’s important to build up gradually.

If you haven’t been working out consistently, don’t jump into suddenly jogging 2-3 miles a day or doing a bunch of jumping jacks several times per day.

A person running stairs.

Note that low-impact exercises can be good for people with advanced osteoporosis or a high risk of fracture.

These activities won’t build bone mass as effectively, but can reduce the rate of bone loss by using the muscles, which in turn, pull on the bones. Examples include indoor cycling, rowing, elliptical machine, swimming, and aqua aerobics.

Consider joining an exercise class. The camaraderie of a class can reduce the anxiety you may have about exercising with osteoporosis. Group fitness also can increase motivation and enjoyment.

In terms of building muscle strength, consistent strength training at least 2-3 times per week is crucial. Examples of exercises to build muscle strength include bridges, squats, lunges, bicep curls, dips, leg press, overhead press, step-ups, push-ups, and planks

Modify exercises based on your fitness level, but don’t be afraid to lift heavy weights once you build up the strength and master your technique.

In order to effectively build muscle (which is the goal for strengthening bones), you have to use a heavy enough resistance.

You should aim for 3 sets of 8-12 reps per exercise, using a weight that leads to complete fatigue by 12 reps. Increase your weight when you can do 12 reps with good form.

Avoid exercises that flex the spine, such as crunches.

If you are a beginner, you might consider doing a few sessions with a personal trainer to make sure you are using proper technique.

A Zumba class.

Exercise to Improve Balance

Exercises to help keep you stable and steady will reduce your risk of fall and subsequent fractures.

Examples include single-leg balance, tai chi, dance, Pilates, or yoga.

Build up to 25 minutes per day or 3 hours per week total.

Exercise to Improve the Health Of Your Back

Back exercises improve posture and core strength to improve the health of your spine and reduce back pain.

Examples include planks, reverse fly with a resistance band, Y’ and T’s, hamstring stretches with your leg up on a stair or chair (not bending down to touch your toes), bird dog, and Superman.

Be careful not to bend forward and curve your back reaching towards your toes, unless your doctor or physical therapist recommends this movement.

Excessive spinal flexion can increase the risk of spinal compression fractures.

An aerobics class.

Exercises to Avoid With Osteoporosis 

It’s important to discuss your disease with your doctor so that you can get personalized recommendations for exercising with osteoporosis.

Everyone has different needs, so your doctor may urge you not to do high-impact activities like running, whereas someone else with osteoporosis may be encouraged to do this type of exercise.

Impact level aside, according to the Mayo Clinic, there are a few types of exercise that should generally be avoided if you have osteoporosis, mainly activities with a high risk of falls and exercises that cause excessive flexion or twisting of the spine.

Examples of the former are horseback riding, skateboarding or rollerblading, mountain biking, and skiing, while crunches and trunk rotations are examples of the latter.

Speak with your doctor about what may or may not be safe for you.

Remember, exercising with osteoporosis can and should be a safe and healthy practice. 

Build up slowly and listen to your body. 

If your workouts elicit pain, stop immediately and speak with your physical therapist or doctor for alternatives.

If you would like to look at some strength training exercise examples that you may be able to add into your routine, check out our strength training plans.

A person on an elliptical machine.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.