How Exercise Prevents Osteoporosis

You can help prevent bone loss with weight training

Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones that affects men and women, especially women beyond menopause who have lower levels of estrogen, as estrogen helps protect bone. In osteoporosis, the bones become brittle and weak and have a greater risk of fracture. The word osteoporosis means “porous bones,” where porous essentially means “full of holes”—and that accurately describes the condition of osteoporotic bones.


Watch Now: The Best Exercises to Prevent Osteoporosis

Exercise Helps Prevent Osteoporosis

Weight-bearing or load-bearing exercise helps keep bones strong by causing the muscles and tendons to pull on the bones, which in turn stimulates bone cells to produce more bone. The load on the bones can be created by your own body weight, as in running or jogging, or by external weights like dumbbells or gym machines in a weight-training program.

In fact, studies suggest that the best exercise may not only be weight-bearing but also "high-impact" exercise. This means imparting a jolt to muscle and bone, as occurs when you place a foot forcefully on the ground while running or lift a weight suddenly. Naturally, you have to ensure you do such exercise safely.

One measure of the health of bones is “bone mineral density,” or BMD for short. A bone density test such as the dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan is used to assess BMD and is a relatively simple procedure.

Mature Mexican Woman Working Out
adamkaz / Getty Images

Best Types of Exercise

While weight-bearing exercise is best for strengthening bones and improving balance to prevent falls, all exercise benefits your general fitness. Here are some examples.

  • Aerobics class: Step, dance, and pump aerobics
  • Weightlifting: Dumbbells, barbells, machines, body weight exercises
  • Running and jogging
  • Walking (less effective than running or jogging)

The least effective exercises for bones are:

  • Swimming or water aerobics
  • Cycling
  • Other minimal weight-bearing exercise activities

Bear in mind that running or leg-based exercise acts mainly on the lower body. And although much of the disabling effect of bone loss is felt in the hips and spine, exercising the upper body with weight-bearing exercise is of equal importance. As we age, broken wrists and arms from falls are not uncommon.

Consider this note of caution about endurance running such as marathons, cross country, triathlons, and other extreme exercise regimens: Extremes of exercise, mainly aerobic exercise, can negatively affect bone density in women by interfering with estrogen production when combined with an inadequate intake of calcium and total food energy. (Natural loss of estrogen is the main cause of bone loss in women after menopause.) For heavy exercisers and athletes, cessation of, or having irregular periods is a warning sign. Bone loss, disordered eating, and abnormal periods is referred to as the “female athlete triad.” This can be prevented if you follow an appropriate training program and pay careful attention to your diet and nutrition. Advice from a qualified sports nutritionist is worthwhile.

Nutrition and Exercise for Healthy Bones in Childhood and Adolescence

Much of the reserve of healthy bone is built in your youth and before the age of 30. Women may be more susceptible to an inadequate foundation process at this time than men. Sufficient calcium intake, a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, and load-bearing exercise are the keys to solid bone growth when you’re young. Then, with continued exercise into old age—and this goes for men as well—bone density decline can be minimized. Although women are the main targets regarding information about osteoporosis and low bone density (osteopenia), some men are also seriously afflicted by this condition.

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Calcium

While men and women ages 19 to 50 should consume 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day, once women reach age 51, they should up their intake to 1,200 milligrams. After age 70, both men and women should consume 1,2000 milligrams of calcium each day.

Even if you do all the right things while growing up and into adulthood, your genes can present you with bones that are susceptible to osteoporosis. This is even greater reason to optimize your lifestyle to prevent poor bone health.

Bone Loss During Dieting and Weight Loss

Some investigations show that when you lose weight, bone density is also reduced. However, this may be preventable if you do weight-bearing exercise and ensure that you take in the recommended amount of dietary calcium while slimming down. Whether this occurs, and by how much, may differ if you are male or female and and pre- or post-menopausal age.

Post-menopausal women who lose weight with diet only (without exercise) and who do not consume adequate dietary calcium seem to be most at risk during this weight-loss phase.

Osteoporosis Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Woman
Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Borer KT. Physical activity in the prevention and amelioration of osteoporosis in women: interaction of mechanical, hormonal and dietary factors. Sports Med. 2005;35(9):779-830. Review.
  • Branca F, Valtuena S. Calcium, physical activity and bone health--building bones for a stronger future. Public Health Nutr. 2001 Feb;4(1A):117-23. Review.
  • Cussler EC, Going SB, Houtkooper LB, et al. Exercise frequency and calcium intake predict 4-year bone changes in postmenopausal women. Osteoporos Int. 2005 Dec;16(12):2129-41.
  • Daly RM, Dunstan DW, Owen N, et al. Does high-intensity resistance training maintain bone mass during moderate weight loss in older overweight adults with type 2 diabetes? Osteoporos Int. 2005 Dec;16(12):1703-12.
  • Stengel SV, Kemmler W, Pintag R, et al. Power training is more effective than strength training for maintaining bone mineral density in postmenopausal women. J Appl Physiol. 2005 Jul;99(1):181-8.
  • Suominen H. Muscle training for bone strength. Aging Clin Exp Res. 2006 Apr;18(2):85-93. Review.
  • Vainionpaa A, Korpelainen R, Leppaluoto J, Jamsa T. Effects of high-impact exercise on bone mineral density: a randomized controlled trial in premenopausal women. Osteoporos Int. 2005 Feb;16(2):191-7.
  • Weaver CM. Calcium requirements of physically active people. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Aug;72(2 Suppl):579S-84S. Review.