Both weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises are recommended for patients with osteopenia and osteoporosis. While muscle strength and balance training are important to reduce the risk of falling down, higher intensity loading may be necessary to stimulate bone formation and improve bone density. Studies from an Australian group with a specific training program (HiRIT) have reported a benefit in bone density in women and men. This program includes deadlift, squat, overhead press, jump drop, and balance exercises.
A recent study compared 8 months of HiRIT with a low-intensity program (similar to Pilates) in women with osteopenia or osteoporosis. It included a small number of women who were on osteoporosis medications to see if the combination of exercise and medications would be more helpful. The group who did HiRIT had a better spine bone density (about 2.5%), but neither exercise program helped with hip or forearm bone density. Unfortunately, only women on medications showed improvements in hip bone density, and doing HiRIT didn’t add anything to benefit of the medications for spine bone density.
In conclusion, women with low bone density who do not necessarily need to be on an osteoporosis medication may see some improvement in spine bone density with this high-intensity exercise program. Whether this improvement would lead to a lower risk of fracture isn’t clear, but it did lead to improved muscle strength and physical function, which is certainly important. Exercise continues to be an essential part of the prevention and treatment of low bone density, but this and other studies have shown it can only do so much for someone with osteoporosis who is at high risk for a fracture.