The role of exercise in women’s health and osteoporosis

In honor of National Women’s History Month, I wanted to tackle a disease that affects women at a higher rate than men—osteoporosis.  While osteoporosis can impact both sexes, it’s estimated that 1 in 3 women over 50, compared to 1 in 5 men over 50, will experience an osteoporotic fracture (1).

Some of the prevention and treatment methods for osteoporosis are related to lifestyle.  My favorite, of course, is exercise.  Changing the way you exercise, or partaking in regular exercise can have a positive impact on the outcome of the disease for both men and women.

Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by porous bone, meaning the body isn’t able to replace bone tissue at a rate that keeps up with bone break down.  This causes a weakening in the integrity of the bone increasing the risk of a fracture or break.  The disease can be influenced by multiple lifestyle factors like diet, excessive alcohol consumption, and tobacco use.  But for this article, we are going to focus solely on exercise as a prevention and treatment method for osteoporosis.

Exercise is a fantastic way to decrease the chances of an osteoporosis diagnosis because it can build strong bones and decrease the rate of bone loss.  The great part, too, is that starting exercise at any age can produce positive results.  It should be noted, though, that starting earlier is better. It can allow for a higher peak in bone mineral density and continuing with exercise can help to slow the rate of decline.

Woman Stretching Legs And Arms

3 exercises for bone health

There are three types of exercises that will help to build bone: balance, weight-bearing, and strength exercises.

  1. Balance exercises impact coordination and reaction time.  These are helpful in reducing the risk of falling, which naturally increases with age.  Falls for an osteoporotic patient also increase the likelihood of a fracture.
  2. Weight-bearing exercises include walking, jogging, stair climbing, or jumping rope.  These exercises cause bone loading through the whole length of the bone which strengthens and builds bone.
  3. Strength training exercises like free weights, Thera-bands, and body weight cause loading to occur near the ends of the bone because that is where muscles connect to the bone.  In shortening a muscle, or creating tension, it pulls on the attachment point between the muscle and bone, impacting strength at both ends.  While swimming, cycling, and ellipticals are great forms of exercise and can positively influence heart health they are not the best at improving bone health.

Once osteoporosis has been diagnosed, we do need to change up our exercise a little bit.  In a period of trying to build bone with impact exercise, we’ll need to take away any high impact moves as they increase the risk of a fracture.  Weight-bearing low impact movements, strength training and balance will still be encouraged.  There is rarely ever a case where an individual is too frail that we’d discourage exercise.

Though osteoporosis is still inevitable for some as they age, hopefully adding these types of exercises into our routine can delay or prevent the diagnosis altogether. Remember you can start building bone at any point!

  1. Melton LJ, 3rd, Atkinson EJ, O’Connor MK, et al. (1998) Bone density and fracture risk in men. J Bone Miner Res 13:1915

Kimberly Burke is the director of the Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University, an outreach program through the Department of Health and Exercise Science. Adult Fitness offers exercise opportunities for employees of CSU as well as community members, while providing hands-on learning experiences for health promotion students. To learn more see

For more health tips, visit the College of Health and Human Sciences Pinterest board.