exercise makes your bones stronger

exercise makes your bones stronger
exercise makes your bones stronger

What are weak bones?

When your bones are weakened, it’s called osteoporosis. At the age of thirty your bones have the maximum strength, from the age of 40 you gradually get less and less strong bones. That applies to everyone. In osteoporosis, the weakening of the bones is faster and more severe than normal. In osteoporosis, the bone mass is reduced and the bone structure is changed (more porous). That means you are more at risk of a bone fracture.

Diagnosis of osteoporosis

If you’ve broken a bone, hope it’s an “innocent” fracture: wrist, arm, collarbone, or lower leg. These fractures are generally quite easy to treat and usually recover relatively quickly. If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, your bones are already quite weak. The chance of a bone fracture has increased and the next time you may be less happy and break a hip or vertebra(s), which heal less easily.

In that case, your future looks less rosy. Such a break has consequences for your health and quality of life. You may no longer be able to do certain things or can hold on for a much shorter period of time. These fractures can also cause a lot of pain that sometimes lasts for a long time. Vertebral fractures can cause your body to change – you become smaller, curvier and lose mobility (quickly).

I like to walk, especially in the mountains, where I use sticks to relieve my joints. But also here on the beach. In the winter I make sure I climb more stairs, which is also good for your bones.

Jeannette (60)

For those who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis – recently or longer ago – it is important to take action. Any time is a good time to start working on maintaining your bone strength. Medication alone will not solve the problem. To keep your bones in good shape and prevent another fracture, the treatment plan is as follows:

  1. move well
  2. Good nutrition
  3. Medication

Diagnosis of osteopenia

If you’ve been diagnosed with osteopenia, that may sound more innocent. Osteopenia means your bones are weakened, but not so much that you have osteoporosis. Yet that diagnosis is also an important warning. There is still a lot you can do to maintain your bone strength. Because you want to prevent osteoporosis and its consequences in the form of vertebral fractures or a hip fracture. Not everyone with osteopenia will automatically develop osteoporosis, but the risk is greater.

People who have osteopenia are usually not prescribed medication (yet), but they are urgently advised to actively work on their bone strength, with:

  1. move well
  2. Good nutrition

There is, however, an important exception. If you have a recent vertebral fracture (vertebral collapse or compression fracture) and the result of the DEXA scan (which measures bone loss) is osteopenia, then that is an important indication that further treatment is needed. In such a case, you will be given medication to quickly reduce the risk of a subsequent vertebral fracture.

What does exercise do for your bones?

To maintain your bone strength you have to ‘move your bones’. Moving against gravity – vertically – stimulates your bone cells to make new bone. Activities such as walking, climbing stairs, Nordic walking, running, dancing and, if possible, jumping (rope) provide incentives to create new bone cells. By the way: cycling and swimming are good for your muscles, but do little for your bones because they are hardly stressed during these activities.

Prevent falls

Bone fractures often occur as a result of a fall. By actively moving in the right way for you, you are not only working on bone strengthening. You are also doing stability training and posture improvement. These are important parts of good exercise, so you have less chance of falling and new bone fractures.

Long process

Muscles and bones are very similar in the way they adapt to load and use. If you do not use your muscles for a while, for example because you are sick in bed, you will notice this immediately. You feel weak and moving takes effort. You can make those muscles stronger again by putting a new load on them. With your muscles you get feedback fairly quickly: you notice that they are getting stronger. If you make your bones stronger by moving, you won’t notice it at first. That is a process of months, if not years. But the build-up effect is undeniably present. If you put a good load on your bones, it will eventually lead to stronger bones. Good nutrition is important for this process to run smoothly. Your body needs building materials to make those bones stronger: proteins, minerals such as calcium and magnesium, and vitamin D.

How does it work?

When you stand upright, various forces are already acting on your bones. Gravity is the most important factor, or your own weight. That is a strong force, which can also change very quickly with simple movements. Standing on one leg, for example, doubles the strength on the standing leg.

Walking is a repetition of movements, where you build up the load on your bones even further. Then you immediately reduce that load when you start the same series with your other leg. Your bones have to deal with a constant series of loads that increase and decrease. Because of these repetitive movements and the accompanying play of forces, your bones constantly send out signals about the load they are experiencing. These signals direct the maintenance process of your bones, which is always active.

Take it easy

Strengthening muscles and bones is mainly a matter of starting gently and slowly increasing the load, duration and number of repetitions. A golden rule is: build up slowly and don’t go too fast. Bone metabolism is a slow process. Also give your body time to respond to the signals you give your bones when you start moving more and differently.

Physiotherapist and remedial therapist

The treatment of someone with osteoporosis looks different from that of someone who, for example, comes to a physiotherapist or remedial therapist with complaints of the knee. The therapist then has a guiding and coaching role and provides tools. The intention is that someone learns to take up exercise in daily life and to sustain it structurally. People can go to the additionally trained physiotherapists and remedial therapists who are specialized in the treatment of osteoporosis. They are affiliated with Chronic Zorgnet. Patients can find a therapist in their area via the Care Finder of Chronic Zorgnet.


For patients with osteoporosis, the first twenty treatments by a physiotherapist or remedial therapist are currently at your own expense. If you have additional insurance, the first treatments may be reimbursed. Patients are advised to check with their own health insurer so that they are not faced with any surprises.

In and around the house

People diagnosed with osteoporosis do not have to go to the gym immediately to exercise. That is allowed, especially because you can also gain inspiration and motivation from other athletes. But stick to your own plan. In the immediate vicinity are many opportunities to just get started. Think of strength training, (Nordic) walking, running or stability exercises. A rest break is also important, so that the body can recover. Alternate intensive exercises with a day of gentle exercises or skip a day. Especially in the beginning, it is wise to take a day of rest after every day with a number of exercises.

Active sitting

Sitting seems like a passive activity with few risks, but the forces on your vertebrae are great, especially on a soft couch. So don’t just look for a suitable chair, but also ask for instruction and support: how can you sit best? Which exercises can you do to optimize sitting for your spine, for example? Active sitting is the solution. Active sitting is a sitting position in which we tighten the muscles in our (lower) back to give the spine the most natural shape possible. A physiotherapist or remedial therapist can guide you in active sitting. You can also train yourself by always correcting yourself if you tend to bend over or slump.

More about osteoporosis

This article is based on a number of previously published articles in Bot in Balans, written by Harry van den Broek, president of the Osteoporosis Association. To ask? Visit the website of the Osteoporosis Association or contact the Question Team by e-mail.

The article is in Dutch

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