Benefits bone before and after menopause

Exercise can benefit bones long before osteoporosis becomes an issue for most people.1 By exercising regularly in youth, people can increase the chances that they will maximize their peak bone mass, which is the point of maximum strength and density that bones reach when people are about 30 years old.1,2 This is important because high peak bone mass reduces osteoporosis risk that increases with age.2

In postmenopausal women, analyses of short-term studies have shown that weight-bearing exercises—exercises that require you to move against gravity while keeping upright—can help prevent bone loss, though they do not help improve it.1,3 However, it’s likely that this type of exercise performed over the long term may provide some greater benefits.1 Plus, exercise can improve coordination, balance, and strength, which may reduce the risk of falling and, in turn, the potential for fractures.1

While exercise can provide tremendous benefits to bone and overall health, it’s important that people consult their doctors about their risks of fracture and any other concerns before starting an exercise program.3

Different types of exercises

Weight-bearing exercises can be low or high impact (see table, “Weight-bearing Exercises”).3 Those who have broken a bone due to osteoporosis or are at high risk of fracture may need to avoid high-impact exercise.

Weight-bearing Exercises
Examples of high-impact exercises Examples of low-impact exercises
Dancing Elliptical machines
Hiking Stair-climbing machines
Jogging Fast walking
Stair climbing  

Muscle-strengthening exercises—that is, exercises that employ some type of resistance against gravity—can also be helpful.3 These may not have any impact on bones the way weight-bearing exercises do; however, they may still require certain positions, such as bending forward, that might place bones at risk for breakage. People who have osteoporosis or are at heightened risk for broken bones might need to consult a physical therapist to determine what kinds of exercise will be safest and most effective for them.

Still other exercises, which do not have impact on the body, can also be helpful in improving balance, posture, and movement.3 As a result, they can help build muscle strength and also help reduce the risk of falling and fractures.

The amount of exercise necessary for bone health will vary according to the type of exercise involved, as well as the health of the person who is doing it.3 Again, it’s always best to check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.

  • 1. Lindsay R, Cosman F. Osteoporosis. In: Longo DL, Fauci AS, Kasper DL, Hauser SL, Jameson JL, Loscalzo J, editors. Harrison’s principles of internal medicine. 18th ed. Chicago: McGraw Hill; 2012. p. 3120-35.
  • 2. National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center [Internet]. Osteoporosis: peak bone mass in women. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases; 2012 Jan [cited 2012 May 31]. Available from: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/bone_mass.asp.
  • 3. National Osteoporosis Foundation [Internet]. Exercise for healthy bones; [cited 2012 Aug 19]. Available from: http://www.nof.org/aboutosteoporosis/prevention/exercise.

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