A holistic approach to wellness is one that focuses on the mind, spirit and body — the whole body, from the outside in. That’s why Elder Care Alliance communities encourage regular exercise as a key to staying healthy and feeling happy. Not only will it help keep your mind sharp and build or maintain muscle, but it will also help maintain bone strength. As people age and begin to feel the effects of osteoporosis, certain exercises to build strong bones become more important than ever.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis by definition means “porous bone.” It’s when the body loses too much, or makes too little, bone. Osteoporotic bones are those that have lost density or mass and contain abnormal tissue structure. When osteoporosis occurs, bones become weak and are more likely to break from a fall. In some of the more serious cases, simple minor bumps or even sneezing can result in bone fractures.
Once people reach a certain age, it becomes time to start putting thought into exercises for osteoporosis. Just like there are techniques and workouts designed to increase strength and build muscle, there are also exercises for seniors that focus on strengthening bones and improving balance to prevent falls.
The Best Bone-Building Exercises for Osteoporosis
There are a variety of exercises for osteoporosis that are simple enough for people to do at any age, but are especially beneficial for seniors. Because of the increased risk for fracture that seniors face, it’s best to consult a doctor or physical therapist before beginning any regular exercise programs. Elder Care Alliance communities are the ideal settings for seniors to try exercises to build strong bones that focus on four core attributes: strength, weight-bearing, flexibility and stability.
These exercises include activities that use free weights, resistance bands, or your own body weight to strengthen all major muscle groups, especially those in the back. If using a weight machine at a fitness center or gym, use extra precaution so as to not twist or overexert the spine. Try these easy-to-do strength training exercises:
Bicep Curls – Extend your arms downward with a 1- to 5-lb. dumbbell in each hand. Then bring your hands up toward your chest and lower them back down.
Shoulder Lifts – Take a 1- to 5-lb. dumbbell in each hand. Then slowly raise your arms out straight in front of you and lift to a comfortable height before lowering them back down.
Hamstring Curls – Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Then lift your heel toward your buttocks and slowly control your foot as you lower it back to its starting position. Repeat on the other side.
Aerobic activities keep you on your feet, supporting both your balance and relying on your bones to bear the weight of your body, in turn strengthening them. Weight-bearing aerobics directly target the bones in your legs, hips and lower spine to slow mineral loss, while providing cardiovascular benefits that boost heart health and circulation. Try these easy-to-do weight-bearing aerobic exercises:
Walking or Dancing – Research says that people who take between 7,000 to 10,000 steps per day increase their life expectancy over the following 10 years. These simple exercises are easy enough to do at any time of day, with great benefits for your bones.
Elliptical Training – A great, low-impact exercise, cycling on an elliptical machine is ideal for those who want to increase their leg strength, but can’t run or engage in other high-impact sports due to osteoporosis or joint issues. Cycling also helps improve cardiovascular health, metabolic health and cognitive performance in seniors.
Gardening – Perhaps it’s not the first activity that comes to mind, but getting outside and working in the garden is actually a wonderful weight-bearing form of exercise because it involves walking, squatting, kneeling, digging, pulling and lifting. Not only does it provide physical benefits to the body, but the joy brought on by watching your work bloom is a great boost for mental health and self-esteem for older adults.
Keeping your joints mobile is key to healthy aging. Move your joints through their full range of motion to keep your muscles working well. For best results, do these stretches once your muscles are already warmed up, and avoid any positions that flex the spine or include bending at the waist. Try these easy-to-do flexibility exercises:
Overhead Side Stretch – Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and raise your arms overhead. Keeping your torso long, gently lean to the left, and hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Return to center, and repeat on the other side.
Hamstring Stretch – Place your right heel on a bench with your leg straight and toes up. Without rounding your lower back, gently lean forward from your hips until you feel a comfortable stretch. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
Shoulder Stretch – Place your feet hip-width apart and reach your right arm across your body. Place your left hand on your upper right arm, and gently draw your right arm closer. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Switch arms and repeat.
Stability and Balance Exercises
For seniors, especially those with osteoporosis, fall prevention is critical. Your muscles all have to work together to keep your body stable and less likely to fall. Movement-based activities like Tai Chi or even just standing on one leg are simple ways to maintain balance. Try these easy-to-do stability exercises:
Foot Taps – Stand in front of the bottom step of a staircase. Slowly raise one foot to tap the step in front of you, and then slowly return it to the floor. Perform 15 to 20 taps, then repeat on the opposite leg.
Sit-to-Stands – Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your back toward a sturdy chair. Sit back and slowly lower your hips onto the chair as gently as possible. Pause, and without swinging your torso, push through your heels to stand up.
Learn more about Elder Care Alliance’s approach to exercise for seniors and our philosophy of holistic wellness.