In this article we take a look at the best exercises for osteoporosis prevention and how to increase bone density.
One of the most important benefits of exercise is keeping our bones strong. Our bones make up our skeletal system which provides a framework for your body to stand upright, sit and move. Without it our muscles will collapse and have nothing to hold them up.
Having strong bones is important especially as we age. Most of us will have reached our peak bone mass by the age of 25 and after 30 years old, the rate at which our bones break down starts to outpace its growth.
This is why bones become more fragile as we get older.
One of the best ways to maintain bone density or increase it, is through exercise. The correct type of exercises, along with proper intake of calcium and vitamin D, will not only prevent diseases like osteopenia and osteoporosis but also help reduce the risk of fractures.
Note: before beginning or doing any of the exercises below be sure to check with your doctor, especially those that involve hopping and jumping. We do not recommend high impact exercises like jumping to anyone who already has weak bones, has osteopenia or osteoporosis.
Impact Exercises: What Our Bones Need
Bones need to be stressed by force in order for them to get stronger. One of the most effective ways to increase your bone mineral density is to do high impact exercises.
These exercises include activities like sprinting, going down stairs, hopping as well as jumping.
In fact when it comes to the increase bone in the hip region, which is one of the most prone areas, jumping comes out as the best exercise.
A study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion showed that women whose ages were between 25 and 50 years old, who did 10, or 20 jumps daily over a 16 week period saw significant increases in their hip bone mineral density compared to control groups.
While jumping is a very effective way of strengthening bones, it is not always recommended because it is a dynamic activity that requires balance coordination.
More importantly if you already have osteopenia or osteoporosis, jumping can put you at risk of injury or fracture due to the bones’ already weakened state.
When it comes to jumping we recommend checking with your physician to see if you are fit enough and don’t have too low a bone mineral density. If your T-Score is -3.0 or below, you shouldn’t be jumping, at least not until your bone density has improved considerably.
T-Scores are results from a DEXA scan. The DEXA scan, which stands for dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry scan, is an X-ray that’s used to check for bone density. It is able to tell you how strong your bones are. Scores from the scan are used to gauge patients on osteopenia or osteoporosis.
If your doctor gives you the thumbs up, and you plan on going forward with a jumping routine, we recommend starting out small and slow.
1. Hopping or Jumping Rope
Hopping or jumping rope is a great way to start as it introduces the body to impact exercise at a small scale. You don’t go up as high when you hop compared to jumping thereby slowly letting your body get accustomed to this type of exercise.
Hopping has been proven to help build bone.
A study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research found that 30 older men found that doing 5 sets of 10 hops daily, with 15 seconds of rest between each set increased bone density in certain areas of the hip.
While the results aren’t as effective as when doing maximum jumps, it gives you a place to start with results.
Hopping for stronger bones: do 5 sets of 10 hops each. Rest 15 seconds between each set.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of hopping, and are ready to move up to jumping, you can do the program followed by the participants of the study mentioned above.
Jumping to increase bone mineral density (BMD):
- Start by jumping 10 times daily, with 30 seconds in between jumps.
As you improve your dexterity and conditioning,
- You can go up to jumping 20 times a day with 30 seconds in between jumps.
Do note that the study made the participants jump twice daily (2 sessions each day) so you can work your way up to that.
The study was performed for a 16 week period.
Resistance and Strength Training Exercises for Bones
While jumping has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to improve BMD of the hip bones, it isn’t the only way to strengthen your bones.
Studies have shown that resistance training also helps improve bone strength. However, with resistance training, it is important to note that some exercises are more effective than others, especially those which load the hips and spine.
If you’re up to it, incorporating weight lifting with jumping is a good way to go. Research has shown that women who did both saw their bone density increase compared to those who didn’t.
The study also noted that those who engaged in upper and lower body weight training (along with jumping) saw greater improvements that those who just trained their legs.
That said here are the resistance exercises we recommend for building bones.
1. Push Ups
While often used as a test of physical fitness, the push up is a great way to strengthen the bones on your wrists. The wrists, along with the spine and hip are the 3 most prone areas for osteoporosis. Doing push-ups places resistance on your wrist bones to help strengthen them.
If you aren’t able to do full push ups, you can start with
- Table push ups
- Then moving to bend knee push ups
- And finally to doing full push ups.
To do a push up:
- Begin by lying flat on your stomach.
- Place your hands on each side of your chest.
- Push yourself up with your hands.
- Keep your core engaged while going push ups. This prevents it from sagging down.
- Lower yourself down again.
- This is one repetition.
2. Prone Back Extension
The prone back extension has been shown to be one of the most effective bone building exercises for the spine.
To do the prone back extension:
- Being by lying face down on the ground.
- Keep your legs straight.
- Position your arms in a number of positions, including extended on the floor over your head, or folded under your chin or under your forehead.
- From this position, lift your legs up.
- Then lift your head up. Make sure to keep your neck in a neutral position. Try not to strain the neck or pull back on it.
- This will work your lower spine.
- Hold for a 5 seconds, then lower yourself down.
3. Overhead Tricep Extension
For this exercise you’ll need a dumbbell. Choose a dumbbell that you can handle, so that you can do each repetition slowly and it control.
In addition to helping build bone, this also helps tone your upper arms to get rid of the flab.
To do the overhead tricep extension:
- Pick up a dumbbell and use both hands to position it over the back of your head.
- You can do this exercise standing or seated.
- Slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head by bending your elbows.
- When you reach the bottom, lift the weight back up against slowly.
- This is one repetition.
4. Standing or Seated Overhead Presses
Overhead presses can be done seated or standing up. Standing up allows you to use more weight though you have to be careful to try and just use the shoulder and arm, and not push the weight up with the rest of your body.
Seated overhead presses eliminate the body getting into the movement which allows you to place more resistance on the shoulders and also a bit on the spine.
The video above demonstrates the exercise standing up but you can do it seated down as well.
To do the seated overhead dumbbell press:
- Sit on a bench and place the dumbbell over your shoulder.
- Push the dumbbell straight up to the ceiling.
- Make sure to stay steady and not lean towards one side when pushing the dumbbell up.
- Slowly lower the dumbbell back to shoulder height.
5. Seated Rows
Seated rows are another great exercise to work the spine. The train your back muscles, specifically those on the middle of the back. Along the way they also work your arms as well as your core.
Almost all gyms will have this seated cable machine where you can do the exercise. You can also do this with resistance bands at home. However with bands, it will be more difficult to increase the resistance as you get stronger.
To do the seated row:
- Sit on the machine and grab hold of the handlebars.
- Keeping your back straight pull the cable apparatus.
- Hold for a couple seconds, then slowly return to the starting position.
6. Lat Pulldown
This is another exercise that will require a machine, the lat pulldown machine. Gyms will have this equipment that uses a cable system like the seated rowing machine does.
This exercise strengthens the back as well, this time focusing on the outer sections, which are the lats. It also works the shoulders, middle back and arms.
How to do the lat pulldown:
- Sit comfortably on the lat pulldown machine and grab hold of the handles on each side of the bar.
- Grab the bar with both hands facing to the front.
- At the starting point, both your arms will be extended.
- Pull the bar down till it reaches your upper chest.
- Hold the bar at this position for one second and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Slowly let the bar go back up to the starting position.
- This is one repetition.
7. Single Leg Deadlift
This is one of the more challenging exercises because it require a bit more coordination and balance. This makes you work more because you’re doing multiple things at the same time and not just lifting the weight.
This is a good exercises that helps with hip bone density as well as the spine. It primarily works the hamstrings and works on your hip movement. Other muscles worked include the glutes and lower back.
You can start this exercise without a weight then gradually add resistance via a dumbbell or kettlebell.
How to do the single leg deadlift:
- Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell with your left hand.
- Standing up straight with knees slightly bent, balance on the right leg then bend with your hip.
- In doing so, raise your left leg straight back behind you until your body forms a “T”.
- Then slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
You can hold the weights in various positions. You can hold it on the same side, for example, dumbbell on left hand, and balance on left leg, or on opposite sides, like for example, dumbbell on right hand, and balancing on the left leg.
You can likewise use 2 dumbbells.
8. Dumbbell or Barbell Squats
Squats are among the most effective bone building exercises, especially if you use a barbell. Loading the barbell on your back puts resistance on the spine that’s needed to help it get stronger.
However, because barbell squats are more technical, doing dumbbell squats are a great alternative that still gives you a good amount of resistance. Plus it works the entire body, especially the legs, hips and glutes.
How to do dumbbell squats:
- Grab a pair or dumbbells. You can position them to your sides, as in the video, or over your shoulders. You can also place it in front of you (goblet squat).
- Start by lower yourself by bending your knees.
- Go down until your knees get parallel to the ground.
- Then push yourself up using your feet to your starting position.
Another alternative to doing squats or a complement to them is the leg press machine. The leg press machine doesn’t work as many muscles but does strengthen your thigh bones.
This is another exercise that helps with the hip as well as spine bone density. As with the other exercises, loading with dumbbells or a barbell works best since it provides that added weight resistance the bones need to get stronger.
How to do the dumbbell lunge:
- Grab a pair of dumbbells on your sides.
- With feet slightly inside shoulder width, take one step forward with your right leg.
- Bend down on the front knee and lower yourself till the thigh is parallel to the ground.
- Push yourself back up using the front leg.
- Once you’re done doing all the reps for one leg, do the other leg.