DEAR DOCTOR K:
Last year I broke my ankle while jogging. It turns out I was vulnerable to breaking a bone because I have osteoporosis. Should I stop exercising to avoid another break? If I should exercise, are there particular types of exercise I should do?
Once you’ve broken a bone, it’s natural to be cautious about exercise for fear of another injury. It’s true that osteoporosis, a bone-thinning disease, increases your risk of bone fracture. But staying active is exactly what you should be doing right now. Why? Because the right exercises, done properly, will build up your bone strength and reduce the likelihood of another fracture.
Besides increasing your bone density, exercise also builds muscle. That, in turn, reduces your risk not only of falling, but also of breaking a bone if you do fall. One large analysis found that exercise programs that included balance, strength and resistance training reduced the odds of falls resulting in fractures by more than 60 percent.
An exercise program for osteoporosis should include four components:
- Weight-bearing exercises force your body to work against gravity, which helps to strengthen bones. Examples include walking, climbing stairs, playing tennis and dancing. Do these types of exercises at least three times a week.
- Muscle-strengthening exercises use weights or your body’s own resistance to work against gravity. Examples include lifting free weights, using a weight machine, working with resistance bands and lifting your own body weight. Do these types of exercises at least twice a week.
- Balance exercises improve your ability to hold yourself upright and help prevent falls. Examples include tai chi and yoga. Perform balance exercises at least twice a week.
- Flexibility exercises keep your muscles limber and joints mobile. They include yoga and stretching. Try to stretch for at least five to 10 minutes after every workout. Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.
Before you start exercising again, ask your doctor if you need to be aware of any physical limitations based on your bone strength and general health. When you’re ready to start, consider working with a physical therapist. A therapist can design a program to meet your needs and goals; he or she can also teach you the proper form and technique to further reduce your risk of injury. Always start slowly and build up from there.
Below, I’ve put descriptions and illustrations of three exercises that are appropriate for a person with osteoporosis. They are designed to improve balance and strengthen the muscles that keep you upright.
I received a letter from one reader not long ago that basically said, “I enjoy reading your column, but you sure do talk a lot about exercise.” I plead guilty. There’s a simple reason: No medicine ever invented has health benefits as powerful as regular exercise. Plus, it makes you feel good — and it can be free. It’s hard to overemphasize exercise.