A-Z interventions and conditions

Exercise for preventing bone loss and reducing fracture risk

A-Z interventions and conditions
        1. Exercise for preventing bone loss and reducing fracture risk

First published: 7 June 2021

The RACGP gratefully acknowledge the following contributor:

  • Zoe Michaleff, Institute for Evidence-Based Healthcare, Bond University

Related GP HANDI entry Exercise for preventing bone loss and reducing fracture risk


Your doctor has recommended physical activity and exercise for preventing bone loss and reducing your risk of a broken bone (fracture).

Key points

  • Physical activity and exercise can help keep bones strong.
  • A mix of weight bearing exercises, strength training and balance training is best for bone health.
  • Try to be physically active on most days and exercise at least 2 or 3 times per week. However, any amount of physical activity and exercise is likely to benefit your health.

How do physical activity and exercise help your bones?

  • Our bones change over time according to how we move and use our bodies. Physical activity and exercise can help keep bones strong.
  • Physical activity is any activity you do in daily life, such as gardening, housework and playing with children. Exercise is a planned physical activity that keeps you fit or makes you fitter.
  • Physical activity and exercise can improve your balance and reduce risk of falls. They can help you to stay independent, do everyday things, and improve your quality of life. Health conditions, such as high blood pressure and mental health, are likely to improve as well.
  • A mix of different exercise types (weight bearing exercises, strength exercises and balance exercise) are best for bone health. (See table)


Weight bearing exercises

Strength (resistance) exercises

Balance exercises

What they are

Weight bearing means you are standing. Weight bearing with impact means you are standing and any activity you do adds a ‘jolt’ or impact through your bones. Talk to your doctor about what level of impact you should start with.

When you move, your muscles pull on your bones and this helps to make new bone and maintain or increase your bone strength. As you get stronger, your muscles can pull harder meaning your bones will also get stronger.

Balance exercises can help keep you steady and prevent you from falling over.


Lower impact:

  • Standing at a bench marching or stamping your feet
  • Brisk walking

Moderate impact:

  • Jogging
  • Jumping
  • Stamping hard and quickly

High impact:

  • Star jumps
  • Running
  • Volleyball/ tennis

You can lift a weight (e.g. dumbbell, filled drink bottle), use an elastic exercise band or your own body weight.

The exercises can target

  • Legs e.g. standing up and sitting down from a chair, squats, step ups, lunges
  • Arms e.g. bicep (arm) curls with weights, push ups (on the wall or ground)
  • Back e.g. back extensions
  • Walking on uneven surfaces,
  • Walking on your heels or toes
  • Standing on one leg
  • Tai chi

How often

Try and build up to 45-60 mins of impact exercise, 2-3 days per week. You can break the time into shorter sessions, e.g. 10 min sessions 4 times a day.

Aim to complete 6-8 exercises, e.g. select 2 leg, 2 arm and 2 back exercises. Repeat each exercise 8-12 times and do this three times. Resistance exercises should be completed 2-3 days per week.

Aim to complete 2 hours of balance training per week. This can be broken down e.g. 30 mins 4-5 days a week or 1 hour 2-3 days.

For examples of exercise programs including pictures and videos please see the links under “Resources”.

  • Before beginning an exercise program speak with your health professional. Not every type of exercise will be suitable for all people. This is especially important if you have any health conditions. A physiotherapist or exercise physiologist can assist you with an exercise program that targets your specific needs and reduces your risk of injury.
  • The more physically active you are, the more your bones will benefit. Try to move more and sit less.
  • You will continue to enjoy the benefits of physical activity and exercise, as long as you stay active – “if you don’t use it, you lose it”.
  • As you get stronger, it is important that you increase the exercise difficulty over time so you keep getting the most benefit.
  • Before starting any exercises especially balance exercises, it is important that you make it safe. For example, remove anything that can trip you up; exercise next to a sturdy surface such as table or kitchen bench so you can support yourself if needed. Wear shoes with non-slip soles, and make sure there is good lighting.
  • If you have severe bone loss or if you have broken bones before, you may need help from a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist. Some exercises may need to be changed to make them safe, e.g. exercises with high impact, bending, twisting or lifting.
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