Exercising for Osteoporosis: Don’t Be Too Choosy

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • I’ve been kind of hung up lately on weight-bearing exercise. It’s the kind that’s supposed to build bone density to counteract the effects of age, or drugs, or menopause, or certain illnesses, anything that robs us of our optimal age-appropriate bone strength and density.

    But if you concentrate too hard on any one kind of exercise—or for that matter, on formal exercise in general—you run the risk of not giving yourself credit for a whole lot of physical pursuits that might be only mildly effective in combating bone density loss, but a major plus in other ways. Here’s what I mean.

    I don’t particularly enjoy trekking to the gym at 5 a.m. Would I rather stay snuggled up in my warm bed, gradually waking up to the sound of chickadees outside the window and wind in the trees? Yes. To tell you the truth, I’d rather get up a bit later, hop on my bike, and pedal through the early-morning streets of my town. It’s beautiful at 6 a.m.—the sun just rising, no traffic, everything looking fresh and clean. I live in a college town; it’s fun to follow the brick-paved walks meandering back and forth between the elegant old buildings. The air is cold and clean; my head is clear from a good night’s rest. I feel like pumping those pedals till I’m FLYING down the street.

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    But bike-riding isn’t a weight-bearing exercise (unless you stand up in the pedals the whole time, which I don’t love). Plus, it’s a little bit of a risk for those of us fearing fractures. So instead of spending an enjoyable hour on my bike, I head off to the gym, hop on the elliptical machine, and grimace my way through 35 minutes of boring (but weight-bearing) exercise, the only scenery the sweaty back of the guy on the machine in front of me.

    And sometimes—here’s the issue—I do neither. I can’t stand another day at the gym, and instead of treating myself to a bike ride (which won’t really help my bone density—oh dear!), I just don’t exercise at all that day. That’s right; I cut off my nose to spite my face.

    Now how sensible is that?! Not sensible at all. Yet it’s human nature, isn’t it, to sometimes act out of frustration rather than take a sensible course. It’s satisfying at the very moment you’re blowing off steam; but not at all once you calm down, and the inevitable recriminations set in.

    So what’s a reluctant exerciser to do? Understand that ALL exercise is good exercise. All of it doesn’t build bone density, it’s true. But all of it keeps you healthy in other ways. Balance is important when you’re trying to avoid fractures; the gentle stretches in Tai Chi, yoga, and Pilates are excellent, relaxing, calm ways to promote good balance. Posture is key, too; something as simple as standing up straight and throwing back your shoulders reduces the risk of spine fracture.

    And then there’s the easiest exercise of all: walking. Walk from the farthest reaches of the parking lot at work, rather than parking near the door. Take the stairs, not the elevator. Walk from the library to the post office to the bank, rather than making three short hops in the car. A brisk walk, while it’s minimally efficient at building bones, improves posture, and balance, and aerobic capacity. It stretches and strengthens your muscles. It gets your blood pumping. It's… EXERCISE.


  • Exercise doesn’t HAVE to involve sweating. While it’s recommended we pursue 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise at least five days a week, only doing 20 minutes is much better than giving up and doing nothing at all. And an hour of gardening, walking the golf course, or even power-shopping is better than giving up and sitting on the couch with your feet up—which is great at promoting weight gain, but not much else.

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    Do those important weight-bearing exercises when you’re most in the mood; then supplement them with other kinds of physical activity, from stretching to watering the lawn. Even if your bones aren’t that impressed, the rest of your body will thank you!


Published On: October 02, 2008