Exercise for bones

Exercise helps keep bones strong and healthy throughout your life. 

Bones are made up of living tissue. They get stronger when you use them. As a child, exercise plays an important role in making our bones bigger and stronger. But as we get older, we start to lose bone strength.

Staying active and doing exercise continues to be important as you get older. It can help make your muscles stronger and helps to keep your bones strong. This makes them less likely to break.

What types of exercise help with bone strength? 

Bones stay strong if you give them work to do. The best way to keep bones strong is to do both weight-bearing impact and muscle-strengthening exercises.

Short bursts of activity are ideal for bones. For example, running then jogging, or jogging then walking.

Variety is also good for bones. Do a range of movements, in different directions and at different speeds. Dancing is a good example of this. 

What is weight-bearing impact exercise? 

You’re weight-bearing when you’re standing. The weight of your whole body pulls down on your bones.

Weight-bearing impact exercise involves being on your feet and adding an extra force or controlled jolt through your bones.

You can get weight-bearing impact exercise by doing specific exercises or leisure and sports activities. The level of impact you get will depend on the type of activity you do.

There are three levels of impact – low, moderate and high.

Examples of low, moderate and high-impact exercises and activities

  • Walking 
  • Brisk walking 
  • Marching 
  • Stamping 
  • Stair climbing 
  • Gentle heel drops
  • Hill walking 
  • Highland dancing 
  • Jogging 
  • Running 
  • Team sports
  • Racket sports
  • Skipping and hopping 
  • Low level jumps 
  • Heel drops with more force
  • Stamping with more force
  • Nordic walking 
  • Basketball 
  • Volleyball 
  • Track events
  • Star jumps
  • Tuck jumps
  • High-level jumps 

Is it safe to do impact exercise with osteoporosis? 

The higher the impact, the better for your bones.

Impact exercise is unlikely to cause a spinal fracture. But to be on the safe side, we recommend sticking with low-impact exercise if you’ve had spinal fractures or many broken bones.

If your spinal fracture didn’t happen during exercise, then you may be able to build up to moderate-impact exercise.

It’s important to be steady when building up your exercise levels. If you’re unsteady, it’s a good idea to start by doing balance exercises. These types of exercises will help you stay steady and reduce your chance of falling over.

Moderate-impact exercise is generally safe, even with osteoporosis. It also gives your bones enough impact to help make your bones stronger.

It’s probably safe to continue high-impact exercise if you’re already doing it and if you haven’t had pain or fractures. But research hasn’t shown if high-impact exercise is more effective or safer than moderate-impact exercise for everyone with osteoporosis.

Impact exercise may not be suitable for you if you have other medical conditions, such as painful arthritis in the knees. You may need to focus on building up muscle-strengthening exercise instead.


How much and how often should I do impact exercise? 

It depends on whether you've had spinal fractures and your fitness levels. 

Everyone needs to do about 50 moderate-impacts on most days of the week. That includes you if you have osteoporosis. The impacts could be jumps, skips, jogs or hops. One jump counts as one impact.

Do 20 minutes of low-impact exercise on most days of the week. Make this part of your regular exercise routine.

Avoid sitting or lying down for a long time. Stand up for a few minutes every hour.

What is muscle-strengthening exercise? 

When your muscles pull on your bones, it gives them work to do. Your bones will respond by renewing themselves. This maintains or improves their strength. As your muscles get stronger, they will pull harder. This means your bones are more likely to get stronger.

You’ll need to move your muscles against some resistance to make them stronger. You can add this by adding a load for the muscles to work against. This can be your own body weight, resistance band or weight.


What is progressive muscle resistance training? 

Progressive muscle resistance training is the best type of muscle-strengthening exercise for your bones. It involves using weights or resistance bands to build up the work for your muscles to do over time. You do this by gradually increasing the weight you lift, in a slow and controlled way. As you train, you’ll find the movements get easier as your muscles get stronger.

The movements you do are called repetitions or reps for short. For example, each time you pull a band or lift a weight is one rep. You should only be able to do 8 to 12 repetitions before your muscles are too tired to do another one with good technique. Your muscles will feel warm, shake or may not want to do the last repetition.

Weights are probably best for bone strength, but bands are a great way to start.

You may want to start progressive muscle resistance training with a qualified instructor at a gym. They can give you advice about techniques and what weights and machines to use. Some instructors can also give you advice about what weights or bands to use at home.

It’s important to build up gradually based on your fitness level and muscle strength.

Examples of progressive muscle resistance training exercises

Four groups of muscle-strengthening exercises can help with bone strength. These are hinge, push, pull and squat. We recommend you do one exercise from each group.

As you move up through the stages, the exercises will work your muscles harder and these harder exercises are known as ‘progressions’. Choose the stage that’s right for you and you can build up gradually when you feel ready.

  • Stage one - bridge
  • Stage two - band-assisted Romanian deadlift 
  • Stage three - barbell Romanian deadlift 
  • Stage one - wall press 
  • Stage two - press-up 
  • Stage three - overhead press
  • Stage one - band-assisted row 
  • Stage two - single-arm band-assisted row 
  • Stage three - single-arm dumbbell row 
  • Stage one - sit to stand
  • Stage two - hands-free squat
  • Stage three - barbell squat

Rowing and gardening are also examples of muscle-strengthening exercise.

How often should I do muscle-strengthening exercise? 

Everyone should do muscle-strengthening exercise if you’re able to. We recommend you do this type of exercise:

  • on 2 to 3 days of the week – leave at least a day’s rest in between
  • for 20 to 30 minutes – work on your legs, arms and spine
  • gradually using bands and weights – lift the most weight you can do for 8 to 12 repetitions
  • by building up to 3 sets of each exercise – 1 set is 8 to 12 repetitions.

There isn’t a specific weight that is safe. Or a limit beyond which you’ll cause a spinal fracture. It is how you lift, rather than how much you lift that matters. Make sure you’re always using a good technique when you’re lifting something.

If you’re lifting something and you can feel the strain in your back, then stop. You may need to reduce the weight or change how you’re lifting. And if you’re not sure, get advice from a qualified exercise instructor.

You should be able to start exercise without seeing a physiotherapist. But you should ask your doctor for a referral if you:

  • are having problems with exercise because of other medical conditions
  • have had many falls
  • have spinal fractures causing pain and other symptoms
  • are struggling to exercise.

Muscle-strengthening exercise helps to maintain your bone strength. But you’ll need to increase the work your muscles do over time to improve your bone strength. This is why progressive muscle resistance training is the best type of muscle-strengthening exercise for your bones.

Swimming and cycling are great because they help your general health and fitness. But they aren’t weight-bearing so not as good for bones.

They may strengthen muscles, but the water or bike holds the weight of your body. This means there isn’t much force going through to your bones.

Add some regular weight-bearing impact exercise into your routine too. Exercise for bone strength is not about doing more exercise but including the right type of exercise for your bones.

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