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Exercise for healthy bones

By Lee Ajzenman, Physiotherapist and Lauren Charlton, Physiotherapist

Two thirds of Victorians over 50 have osteopenia or osteoporosis (poor bone health), and it affects both men and women. But the risk of developing osteoporosis can be reduced and exercise plays an important role in prevention. 

What is osteopenia or osteoporosis?

If someone has osteopenia or osteoporosis, their bones are less dense or weaker than normal. Bone density is measured with a bone density scan that indicates if your bones are normal, osteopenic (slightly brittle) or osteoporotic (very brittle). The risk of breaking a bone increases as the bones become more brittle. 

Why do we get osteoporosis?

Two factors that impact bone density are:

  • inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake, and
  • lack of weight bearing exercise (just as cardiovascular exercise challenges the heart to help it grow, weight bearing exercise helps maintain or improve bone density).

We can control our diet and exercise, but other factors that can affect bone density may be mostly out of our control, like age, our genes, hormones or medications that interfere with bone growth. 

Early diagnosis from your doctor is so important to help slow the progression of early osteopenia.

What is weight bearing exercise?

It can sound hard and scary, but it really just means exercising with the forces of gravity in place (so this eliminates walking on the moon but not moonwalking …!) Also be mindful that swimming or any exercises in a pool do not load the bones enough to be considered weight bearing exercise. Some examples of weight bearing exercise include:

  • walking/ hiking,
  • jogging,
  • tennis,
  • dancing,
  • skipping, and
  • resistance training (such as lifting weights).

How to slow the progression of osteopenia and osteoporosis. Or even better, how to avoid it in the first place!

If you already have a diagnosis of osteoporosis or osteopenia, your doctor should advise you, but definitely ensure that you have adequate: 

  • Calcium intake: at least 3 serves of dairy foods daily (or other forms of calcium if you are vegan). See a dietician if in doubt.
  • Vitamin D intake: get UV protected sun exposure and/or take supplements if needed. Vitamin D helps your body absorb and use the calcium you consume in your diet to build healthy bones. You can test your vitamin D levels with a simple blood test.
  • Regular weight bearing exercise (as outlined above).

Are there any exercises to avoid with osteoporosis?

  • Excessive or unmindful (lack of care or attention to) bending/ twisting movements—see a physiotherapist to help guide you through some safe exercises to maintain or gently improve your current flexibility and understand your limits.
  • High impact exercise, like certain types of running or jumping need guidance from a physiotherapist.
  • Exercises with risks of falling like rock climbing, contact sports, gymnastics or even difficult hiking trails need to be considered carefully. We all fall from time to time, but a fall with osteoporosis puts you at greater risk of breaking a bone, which will set you back tenfold.


If you’d like more information about osteoporosis, visit Better Heath Channel


Osteoporosis Australia 2007, Osteoporosis costing all Australians. A new burden of disease analysis – 2012 to 2022, accessed 29 September 2020,

Last updated: October 7, 2020 at: 9:31 am