Osteoporosis Australia and ESSA have issued a joint position statement stating that : Bones need to be ‘stressed’ in very specific ways in order to get stronger. There is now good quality evidence that weight bearing impact exercises, such as hopping and jumping, and progressive resistance training (PRT), such as lifting weights in the gym, are the most effective exercises for improving and preserving bone strength throughout life.
Experts have generally been very cautious with exercise advice for people with osteoporosis, but there is growing evidence for the benefits of quite intensive resistance exercise in this group. However, it’s absolutely crucial that these exercises are performed under strict supervision by a qualified exercise professional’.
The best example of scientific evidence, for a highly specific exercise program for Osteoporosis was seen in the ‘Osteo-cise’ study in Melbourne. (Daly, 2014). The study ran over 12 months, implementing exercise programs out of local gym facilities for patients diagnosed with Osteoporosis. There were 3 main components of the exercise program which contributed to its success
High velocity, power resistance training (fast concentric, slower eccentric)
Highly challenging balance exercises
Moderate impact exercise – chosen individually
The average percentage improvement in bone in this study was 1.5% in the Lumbar spines. Other studies looking at combined strength and impact exercise have shown similar improvements of percentages of up to 3.8%. Interestingly too, studies where patients just walked showed no improvement in bone density.
The percentage improvement of bone density with exercise should be taken into context, for example, during menopause, females can be losing 2-3% of bone density per year and around 1% per year following menopause (Watkins, 2010). A common medication used for osteoporosis, Fosamax, has reported improvements of 4-8% in the spine and 1-3% in the hip (Osteoporosis Australia). From the studies reviewed we have seen strength exercise to have similar percentage improvements, without the side effects of medication and added benefit of muscle retention and growth.
Structure and Function of the Musculoskeletal System-2nd Edition, James Watkins (2010)
Effects of a Targeted Multimodal Exercise Program Incorporating High‐Speed Power Training on Falls and Fracture Risk Factors in Older Adults: A Community‐Based Randomized Controlled Trial. Robin M Daly et al (2014) Journal of Bone and Mineral Research
Osteoporosis Australia Website: Medicines Consumer Guide
Independent and combined effects of calcium‐vitamin D‐3 and exercise on bone structure and strength in older men: an 18‐month factorial design randomized controlled trial. Robin Daly et al J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011;96(4):955–63.
The effect of physical exercise on bone density in middle-aged and older men: A systematic review. Bolam et al (2013) University of Queensland
Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Volume 20, Issue 5, Pages 438 – 445