Exercise is the best form of prevention for osteoporosis. Active people are at 20-45% less risk of hip fractures due to their higher bone density.
The benefits only last as long as you make exercise part of your lifestyle.
Regular physical activity maximises the density of your bones while they are still growing and maturing and then minimises bone loss later in life.
The type of exercise carried out is important, as only weight bearing exercise such as walking and weight training will have the direct benefits on bone.
Types of exercise
Weight-bearing exercise such as walking, running, tennis, weight training and aerobics are the best forms of exercise to help reduce bone loss associated with ageing.
During these activities you are supporting your weight and so strengthening the bones. They then react to the forces exerted on them by becoming stronger.
These types of activities actually stimulate the osteoblasts, the cells which produce new bone tissue. For example, for the spine, aerobic exercise classes, 2 to 3 times a week, appears to improve bone density by 2-5%.
It is recommended by government health officials that we try and stay as active as possible, due to the numerous health benefits. Guidelines suggest that we need 30 minutes of physical activity per day to stay healthy.
Set a careful exercise programme
Bones respond to short, sharp bouts of loading and more intense or prolonged exercise does not necessarily reap more benefits. Intensive exercise in the extreme, can have an adverse effect, resulting in a decrease in bone density. This usually happens during the pre-menopausal years, as excess exercise stops egg production and causes periods stop, meaning the protection provided by oestrogen is lost.
Higher impact exercise can be beneficial for the hips, but obvious care must be taken. The use of physical protectors and supports as a physical means of protection are invaluable to help you feel more secure whilst exercising.
As we get older, we do become more prone to aches, pains and injuries, and over flexing and stressing the body through an intense level of exercise should be avoided to prevent any further injuries that may be present. You should never be in pain whilst exercising, even though some discomfort that disapears after exercising is normal. If you experience pain or other worrying events when you are exercising, you should seek expert advice.
Benefits of other exercise
Although non-weight bearing exercise, such as swimming and cycling, do not directly benefit bones, many people enjoy the activities and they can still form an important part of the exercise programme. They provide the combination of developing muscle strength and aerobic exercise and help to improve balance and agility, so reducing the risk of a fall.
Yoga and pilates are good ways to improve balance as well as providing a relaxing form of exercise. If taught correctly, they can help to reduce the risk of falls, and so of fractures, by improving balance and coordination.
For more information about the benefits of physical activity, take a look at the Activity and health topic.