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Senior woman doing back training with trainer in gym at machine

Best exercise with osteoporosis


If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis you may wonder – or even worry – about what exercise you should be doing.  You may be feeling fragile and concerned about lifting weights, bending down low or putting too much pressure through your bones.

You’re right to be cautious but don’t be scared.  Exercise can, in fact, help manage and prevent osteoporosis. Low-impact weight bearing exercises – like walking – and strengthening exercises can help you build up bone and keep it strong. Meanwhile, balance and flexibility exercises can help prevent you falling in the first place – which is the single best way to avoid fractures.

Seek advice – but not avoidance!

Not all exercises are safe or recommended for people with osteoporosis so it’s worth checking with your GP first. Then it’s a good idea to start with a personal trainer or fitness class instructor specially qualified to work with people who have osteoporosis. They will keep you focused and motivated while giving you plenty of tips to help you work out independently.

Remember, everyone is different and osteoporosis affects people at many varying levels. So, what works for your friend, may not work for you.  Seek that advice from your GP and a specially qualified trainer before you jump (or step!) in.

Why exercise?

Exercise will target your bones, muscles, balance, flexibility and stability. It can improve your strength and mobility whilst boosting your cardiovascular (CV) fitness which, in turn, will promote a healthy heart and circulation.  There are many benefits of exercise including:

  • Building bone density
  • Weight management
  • Good mental health
  • Better sleep
  • Higher self-esteem/self-belief
  • The ‘feel-good factor’

Different exercise brings different benefits

If you’re older or have osteoporosis, there are four key areas you need to focus on for all-round fitness, health and wellbeing.

  • Strength
  • Cardiovascular fitness
  • Flexibility
  • Balance

Here we outline some of the best exercises to do if you have osteoporosis. 


Why should I do it?

Strength training uses your body weight, resistance bands or free weights (like dumbbells) to exercise your major muscle groups. This makes you stronger but also, by making the muscles pull on your bones, it helps build and maintain bone density.  If you’re a member of a gym, you could use the weights resistance machines: make sure a gym instructor shows you what to do first!!

What should I do?

  • Bicep curls
  • Tricep extensions
  • Squats
  • Lunges

What should I avoid?

  • Make sure you don’t twist too much – especially if setting up/using gym machines
  • Don’t let the weights be too light as you need to challenge your muscles to pull on your bones to stimulate bone growth
  • Don’t let the weights be too heavy as you could pull muscles or be forced to use a bad technique

Any tips?

  • Good technique is important to avoid injury and make sure the exercise is effective: have a few sessions with a qualified class instructor or PT to learn the right technique before trying these at home.
  • Aim to lift a heavier weight for fewer repetitions (reps)

Cardiovascular ‘aerobic’ exercises

Why should I do it?

Cardiovascular (‘cardio’) exercise is anything that makes you breathe more quickly as your heart and lungs work hard to move your major muscles. It’s good for your heart, circulation and breathing capacity, endurance and usually puts a smile on your face!

What should I do?

  • Brisk walking – using your arms, getting a bit out of breath!
  • Low impact aerobics class
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Dancing
  • Badminton

What should I avoid?

  • High impact cardio exercises such as running, jumping and skipping

Any tips?

  • When walking, add in hills, steps and stairs to challenge you a bit more
  • Remember that swimming and cycling are good for your cardiovascular health but aren’t great for your bones because you’re not weight-bearing – so make sure you don’t skip your resistance exercises 😊


Why should I do it?

You need to keep flexible to keep moving, guard against aches and pains and prevent injury when exercising. The idea is to be able to move your joints through their full range to keep your muscles working nicely and, in turn, keeping them pulling on your bones.  Flexibility involves stretching gently and never to the point of pain. It should only be done AFTER exercise or movement when your muscles are nice and warm.  Don’t stretch without at least 10 minutes of movement first.

What should I do?

  • Stretching exercises – ask a personal trainer or instructor to show you how to do these
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Dance

What should I avoid?

  • Avoid Yoga and Pilates stretches that flex your spine too much (for example an extreme or unsupported forward flexion such as when doing a forward fold or bend)
  • Avoid twisting too far to either side
  • Avoid very deep stretches such as Pigeon Pose

Any tips?

  • Check with your GP and yoga instructor how far you should stretch given the extent of your osteoporosis
  • Take a minute or two to stretch after a walk – even each time you come back from the shops will add up to make a difference


Why should I do it?

Balance is important to prevent you falling which is the best way to avoid fractures in later life. Balance work – like flexibility moves – involves concentrating on your breath which has the added, wonderful benefit of bringing you a sense of calm, self-awareness and inner strength: all great attributes when ageing and/or living with osteoporosis.

What should I do?

  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Tai Chi
  • Bowls
  • Dance

What should I avoid?

  • Trying new or challenging balance positions without support, such as a sturdy chair or table to hold on to
  • Bending from the waist – eg to touch toes, forward fold or do sit-ups
  • Twisting too far to either side

Any tips?

  • Build balance challenges into your daily life
  • Even simple exercises such as standing on one leg while doing simple daily tasks, such as brushing your teeth or waiting for the kettle to boil, will help improve your stability and balance, little by little.

How often should I exercise?

  • Aim to complete low-impact cardio activity for at least 30 minutes, five days a week
  • Remember you can break that up into 2 x 15 minute sections!
  • Do two strength-based workouts each week – with at least two days apart
  • Do three 30-minute weight bearing exercise sessions each week
  • Do three flexibility/balance session each week

A little extra help

  • Exercise a little and often – shorter bursts of activity are VERY effective and easier to fit into your day.
  • If you’re feeling like your ‘get up and go’ just ‘got up and went’ – commit to doing just five minutes and see how you feel after that. Chances are, you’ll be all fired up to complete the rest of your session.
  • If you’re feeling a bit low, remember exercise will boost your mood as much as your metabolism – so go on, get a move on!
  • Exercise with your friend or partner: you’ll keep each other motivated and on track
  • Find further inspiration, guidance and activities from the experts at Move it or Lose it.

Exercise caution – but DO exercise!

If you have osteoporosis, you need to respect your bones and understand they are fragile. Although high impact exercise, jumping and explosive or jerky exercises are NOT recommended, there’s plenty you can do to support your bones, keep strong, supple and feeling positive. Ensure you’re cleared to exercise by your GP and seek out a specially trained PT or instructor who has expert knowledge in training people with osteoporosis.  Start gently with low impact cardiovascular exercise, regular weight-bearing exercises, gentle stretching after movement and daily balance and breathing work. You’ll feel all the better for it.