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  • Writer's pictureBreanne Kunstler

Osteoporosis: Let's exercise for strong bones!

Our member and physiotherapist, Shae Martello, tells us how to prescribe exercise for people with osteoporosis and the importance of prevention.

Most clients who come into our clinic have heard the term ‘osteoporosis’ before but not everyone is clear on what osteoporosis actually is. Osteo refers to bone, and porosis refers to holes in the bone caused by a loss of calcium resulting in a loss of bone mass. These holes make the bones more susceptible to fractures. Therefore, having osteoporosis means someone has brittle bones. In Australia, around half of all women and one third of men over 60 years of age have osteoporosis. It is more common in women because of hormonal changes during menopause, which increases bone loss. An inactive lifestyle, poor posture, poor balance and weak muscles also increase the risk of fractures.

Exercises that are good for people with osteoporosis include:

- Resistance training using free weights such as dumbbells and barbells, elastic band resistance, body-weight resistance or weight-training machines

- Exercises to improve posture, balance and general strength, such as Pilates or tai chi

- Weight-bearing aerobics exercise including dancing, tennis and stair climbing. Gentle walking and swimming do not provide enough weight-bearing resistance to improve bone health, however both are great options for people with severe osteoporosis, or those who are just starting to introduce exercise

Ideally, your weekly physical activity regime should include 30 minutes a day of a combination from all three groups. You need to continue your exercises over the long term to reduce your chances of a bone fracture.

A person with osteoporosis should avoid activities such as:

- Exercises that involve loaded bending of the spine, such as sit-ups

- Exercises that increase the risk of falling, as most fractures are caused as a result of a fall

- Exercises that require sudden, forceful movements or a forceful twisting motion, such as a golf swing

Exercise that is too vigorous may increase the risk of fractures.

Where to start:

If you don’t have osteoporosis, you can reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis in later years by commencing an exercise program that includes weight-bearing exercises or resistance training and ensuring your diet includes the appropriate nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D. It is also important to make sure children and teenagers get enough exercise, calcium and vitamin D to build strong bones during development. If you already have osteoporosis, you can still benefit from exercise, as weight-bearing exercise can reduce the rate of bone loss and preserve bone tissue, which will reduce your risk of a fracture. If you have, or think you may have, osteoporosis you must consult a health professional before undertaking an exercise program, as the severity of your osteoporosis will need to be considered, as well as your individual goals (e.g., improving bone density, or preventing falls). A physiotherapist will be able to help you learn which exercises are safe and appropriate for you.

Shae Martello is a physiotherapist at Healthfocus Physiotherapy in Albury, NSW. Shae has an interest in researching how nutrition affects recovery in adjunct to physical activity, and also safe resistance training for adolescents to improve performance. Shae promotes physical activity to her clients by brainstorming how it can fit into their daily routine and helping them explore other options if they do not have an interest in conventional activities. Shae's personal favourite form of physical activity is resistance training and she attempts to educate all clients on the benefits, especially adolescents. Call (02) 6041 5744 to make a booking to see her today!

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