How Exercise can Prevent Osteoporosis

By Spencer Richards

Osteoporosis is a major health issue, particularly for post-menopausal women, but also for female endurance athletes. In this article, Dr. Richards explains the impact that exercise has on osteoporosis prevention.

osteoporosis and exercise

Osteoporosis is a chronic, progressive disease characterized by decreased bone strength, low bone mass, and bone deterioration leading to increased risk of fracture. It is a major health issue, particularly for post-menopausal women, but also for female endurance athletes. Osteopenia is a precursor condition diagnosed as a warning sign that the bones are thinning and weakening.

Doctors have long known that exercise – particularly weight-bearing and resistance exercise – can have a positive effect on bone density and strength. Around 95% of the total bone mass is achieved before most women are 20 years of age, and peak bone mass usually hits around or before age 30. Exercise, therefore, is very important in preventing osteoporosis in two ways:

  1. For young girls, so they can build the most bone mass possible
  2. For adult women, to prevent or slow the loss of the bone mass they have

The Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine recently published the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine Consensus Statement: Osteoporosis and Exercise (2013;23:5:333-339). Here are their recommendations by age group:

Youth

“To optimize bone health, all youth should accumulate a minimum of 60 minutes of weight-bearing activity daily.” In addition, a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous exercise per day should be included, such as plyometrics, jumping, resistance training and participation in sports that involve jumping and running. Finally, “sports participation throughout childhood is essential in optimizing bone health and should be advocated.”

Adults

“Moderate to high intensity, weight-bearing endurance activities, resistance activities, and jumping activities are recommended 3 times per week for 30 to 60 minutes to preserve bone health.”

Post-menopausal adults

“High-impact exercises have not shown major gains in bone mineral density in postmenopausal women, but weight-bearing endurance exercise (30-60 minutes) 3 to 5 times per week is more beneficial. Strength training to load the spine and hip area is recommended 3 days per week. These weightlifting exercises could include leg press, leg extension, leg curl, squats, loaded back extensions with shoulder, and arm exercises.”

Intermountain Sports Medicine Specialists encourage exercise and support these recommendations. If you need help trying to figure out how to get started or knowing exactly what exercises you should do, talk to a sports medicine doctor, an athletic trainer or physical therapist.