Osteoporosis is a degenerative bone disease typically found in older adults, especially women, which is characterized by low bone density. Having osteoporosis increases your risk of falling and fractures. According to the American Council on Exercise, as you age, bone resorption slows, causing the bone to become less dense and more porous. Without adequate calcium intake, nutrition and weight-bearing exercise, osteoporosis can occur. Although exercise is recommended for those with osteoporosis to help build strength, improve posture and cushion the joints, there are certain activities that are contraindicated, or harmful. Talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
Osteoporosis weakens the bones and joints so jumping or dynamic weight-bearing activities are not recommended. These include plyometric activities like bounds, jump rope or high-intensity step aerobics classes. Also avoid intense cardiovascular exercise like running, or even walking on uneven surfaces. Exercise or activities that may involve quick changes of direction, like some sports, could result in falls or bone shearing. These activities have a high fracture rate, especially in the hips, femur and lower back.
Trunk flexion involves bending forward at the waist, which places an unnatural load on the lumbar spine, causing fractures. These activities can cause small fractures over time, weakening the spine further, or they can result in one large fracture, possibly leaving you immobile or debilitated. The International Osteoporosis Foundation also advises against picking things up off the ground from a standing position. Also avoid seated stretches that involve reaching forward towards your toes. Even though you are not standing in this position, it still places load on the lower spine as it curves forward.
Avoid any lying abdominal exercise that involves bringing your legs or torso up off the ground. The pressure of your spine on the floor can cause small fractures, even though the movement is not as exaggerated as full forward trunk flexion. Instead, work your core by doing exercises like planks and quadruped workouts where your spine stays in a neutral position.
Just as it is not safe to bend forward at the waist, it is also dangerous to extend the spine backwards or hyperextend it. Movements like prone lying leg raises, superman holds or seated back extensions can place load on the lumbar spine, leading to further weakening and fractures. Instead, try seated machine rows or quadruped exercises to strengthen the back.
Do not do spinal or torso twisting exercises like seated trunk rotations and bicycle crunches because they can cause grinding on the spine. Even seemingly harmless low-impact activities, like golf, involve twisting that can severely weaken the bones. When doing your regular daily activities, avoid twisting and reaching to grab something. Instead, brace your core and try to grab objects while keeping your spine straight and neutral.
- National Osteoporosis Foundation: Exercise for Healthy Bones
- International Osteoporosis Foundation: Exercise
- "Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist Manual"; American Council on Exercise; 2009