If you have osteoporosis, you may need to use caution when performing certain activities. But this doesn’t mean avoiding activity altogether. Weight bearing exercises may improve bone mineral density and slow progressive bone loss.

Osteoporosis involves losses in bone mineral density and strength. Doing weight bearing exercises after receiving an osteoporosis diagnosis may help strengthen your bones and slow down the progression of the condition.

This is because mechanical stress from the exercises causes your body to produce osteoblasts. Osteoblasts are specialized cells responsible for bone formation, growth, and remodeling.

When starting any type of exercise, especially if you’re not used to the routine, consider asking your healthcare professional about safety, frequency, and intensity. The amount and type of physical activity that may work best for you often depends on your osteoporosis stage, your age, and any prior injuries you’ve had.

Weight bearing exercises involve activities that require you to support your body weight against gravity, with or without additional resistance or equipment.

In other words, any activity that involves moving your body while on your feet is a weight bearing aerobic exercise, such as walking, gardening, and dancing. Weight bearing exercise can also involve any movements in which you support yourself by bracing against the floor with your hands or feet, such as planks, pushups, or squats.

If you live with osteoporosis or have had previous bone fractures, it is particularly important to work with a healthcare professional when structuring an exercise program. The appropriate weight bearing exercises for you may depend on different individual factors.

Bryan Hathaway, a physical therapist certified in mechanical diagnosis and treatment and owner of Peak Performance Physical Therapy in Owego, New York, had the following general recommendations.

Older woman climbing stairs as osteoporosis exerciseShare on Pinterest
Using the stairs, whenever possible and safe, may count as an osteoporosis exercise. (Halfpoint Images/Getty Images)

Stair climb

Hathaway recommended adding stair work to your osteoporosis exercises.

“Go up and down a series of stairs,” he explained. “Again, 3–5 sets for 60 seconds. Once this exercise becomes easier for you, hold some dumbbells.”

You’ll want to go at your own pace and take as many breaks as needed, especially if this is new to you. It’s also important to ensure you have something to hold onto for safety to prevent any falls.

Farmer’s walk

For the farmer’s walk exercise, you’ll hold a dumbbell in each hand, hold your arms at your sides, and walk naturally at your pace. You can do this for 3–5 sets of 60 seconds each. You do not need to bend your elbows as you walk.

“Remember, if the weight does not challenge you to a degree, it will be less beneficial. This is true with all weighted exercises,” Hathaway advised.

You do want to start with as light a weight as possible, though, and work your way up gradually with the guidance of your healthcare professional.

Walking lunge

If you don’t have easy access to steps or stairs, Hathaway suggested walking lunges as a replacement. You can try 3–5 sets of 60 seconds each. You can then add dumbbells to each hand as the exercise becomes easier over time.

To do a lunge, you step forward with one leg. Then, you bend both knees as much as possible. You want your front thigh to be as parallel to the ground as possible, forming a 90- to 120-degree angle with your calf. The front knee should stay in line with your ankle, so it doesn’t pass the toe line. Your back knee does not need to touch the ground.

If this exercise is new to you, try standing next to a heavy object or a wall that you can hold onto for safety.

Older female doing a walking lunge exercise for osteoporosisShare on Pinterest
Walking lunges are great exercises for osteoporosis management and prevention. (adamkaz/Getty Images)

Wall sits

Wall sit exercises are done by placing your back against a wall and slowly bending your knees as much as you can until your knees are at a 90- to 120-degree angle, depending on your ability level. In this exercise, you mimic sitting down on a chair but keep your back and head against the wall. Once your knees are bent as much as you can, you’ll hold that position.

Hathaway recommended that you start by holding the position for 30 seconds and repeating for 5 sets. When ready, you may increase the duration of the hold, working your way up to 2 minutes. Once you can do 5 sets of 2 minutes each, Hathaway suggested that you may want to try holding dumbbells to add resistance.

Make sure your feet are well grounded and your shoes don’t slip. You may also want to have something next to you that acts as support in case you have difficulty standing up from the wall sit position.

For maintaining bone health, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends a well-rounded program of both endurance- and resistance-based weight bearing exercises.

Endurance exercises are longer lasting activities that challenge your cardiovascular system while also putting mechanical stress on your bones and muscles.

Examples include:

  • walking
  • jogging
  • stair climbing

Resistance or strength training exercises are those that use pushing, pulling, or lifting to create stress on the musculoskeletal system. They often target specific muscle groups and can be adjusted by adding or decreasing weight.

Examples include:

Swimming is a resistance exercise that integrates endurance.

Starting with exercises that are too advanced may lead to injury, whether or not you live with osteoporosis.

If you do have osteoporosis, minor falls and bumps may fracture weakened bones. Bone fractures can reduce your overall quality of life and lead to lasting functional impairment and decreased independence.

“When starting any exercise routine, clear it with your physician first,” said Hathaway. “When it’s time to start, you may use just your body weight for light resistance.”

Weight bearing exercises don’t need equipment to be effective. You may still experience benefits by doing the movements with your body weight only.

You may also want to exercise in a safe environment and when you have other people around who can help if you need assistance.

What exercises should you avoid with osteoporosis?

To avoid injury, Hathaway suggested staying away from exercises that pose a fall risk or are too advanced for your fitness level.

“Do not start out a new routine with box jumps or high velocity Olympic lifts and plyometrics,” he said. “Give your body the time to adapt to a progression of loading your muscles, joints, and bones.”

Your body’s response to mechanical stress occurs immediately, but significant changes in bone remodeling and formation take time.

How effective exercise is for bone density depends on individual factors like your age, general health, and the underlying causes of osteoporosis. Your exercises and their intensity also factor in.

You cannot fully reverse osteoporosis by doing weight bearing exercises alone. That said, the exercise may improve bone mineral density and help slow progressive bone loss for some people.

A 2023 analysis on the effectiveness of ASCM guidelines in osteoporosis confirmed that exercise was an effective way to improve bone mineral density. Yet the benefits of exercise on bone mineral density varied across different bone locations, and not all exercises had the same level of effectiveness.

Weight bearing exercises can help you maintain bone health throughout life, even after an osteoporosis diagnosis. While exercise may not be able to reverse the effects of osteoporosis on its own, it can help some people improve bone mineral density and slow progressive bone loss.

The most effective weight bearing exercise for osteoporosis may depend on your diagnosis, overall health, age, and other factors.