In our last post, we reviewed the existing evidence on whether exercise can prevent fractures by looking at the results of a recently published meta-analysis (a type of study where results are combined from different trials). We concluded that at this time we do not have definite proof to say that exercise reduces fracture risk.
Why then do health professionals stress that exercise is good for osteoporosis patients? The answer lies in our understanding of how bones function. Bones are similar to muscles in that we need to work them in order to keep them healthy and fit. So when we use our body weight or lift weights for example, not only do our muscles have to work to hold up that weight, but our bones also work and become strong. And just like muscles, bones can become weak and deteriorate if they are not used. People who are wheelchair-bound, for example, have very low bone density in their legs.
So although we currently do not have proof to say that exercise will definitely protect us from osteoporosis-related fractures, the effects of exercise on bone still warrant physicians to highly recommend it. Also keep in mind that the benefits of exercise are numerous and extend to all parts of your body! (Read more on the benefits of exercise here and here.)
But before you tie up your laces and head out for a jog, a word of caution: safety is an important factor to consider when exercising, especially if you have low bone mass, are frail, or have a tendency to lose your balance or fall easily.* Exercising incorrectly in these cases can actually be more harmful than not exercising at all! Avoid high-impact exercises (such as running, jumping rope, and skipping) and avoid activities which flex, bend, or twist your spine.
Osteoporosis Canada has some excellent information on general exercise guidelines for people with low bone mass and what types of exercise are best for building bone strength. In addition, you might want to consult with a certified exercise specialist that is familiar with the special needs of people with osteoporosis. In Canada, you can find such an exercise specialist by visiting the Bone Fit website.
Our research group has also produced a booklet called the ‘Osteoporosis Exercise Guide’ which is based on over 15 years of experience working with osteoporosis patients. It provides detailed instructions on exercises that are most beneficial in building bone strength and also provides important guidelines for daily activities to avoid fractures. For more information, or to purchase a copy, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*If you have heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, or are overweight, you should first check with your physician before starting an exercise program.