Resistance training may help prevent osteoporosis by increasing bone density. This type of exercise puts stress on the bones, and in response, the body creates denser bone tissue.

However, research has not conclusively proven that resistance training increases bone density substantially. A 2020 review states that it probably helps with osteoporosis prevention but that there is more evidence for this in some parts of the body than others.

Still, resistance training has a range of benefits in addition to potentially building stronger bones. It can strengthen muscles and may reduce the risk of falls in combination with other exercises.

Read on to learn how well resistance training prevents bone loss, whether it can reverse osteoporosis, and how often people should perform this type of exercise.

Learn more about osteoporosis.

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Resistance training involves moving against resistance, such as an object, gravity, or a person’s body weight. This puts mechanical stress on the bones.

Examples of resistance training include:

  • lifting weights
  • using resistance bands
  • performing exercises such as pushups and situps

Scientists believe that, in response to this stress, bone-building cells begin creating denser bone tissue. This means the bones contain more of the minerals that make them strong, such as calcium and phosphorous.

For resistance training to help build denser bones, the amount of force they must resist needs to exceed the amount of force a person typically encounters in everyday life. This stimulates bone tissue formation as the body prepares to meet higher physical demands.

There is evidence that resistance training can contribute to osteoporosis prevention, but it is unclear exactly how effective it is.

A 2020 systematic review looked at 59 studies involving older adults ages 65 and above. They found that, of the different types of exercise participants tried, ones that focused on higher doses of resistance training or multiple types of exercise had the best results.

There was stronger evidence that resistance training improved bone density in the lower spine than in other areas, such as the hips.

However, a 2022 study did find evidence that progressive resistance training could increase bone density in the hips, as well as the femur bone in the legs. This study also focused on adults over 65 years.

In contrast, a 2022 review and meta-analysis on resistance training in healthy older adults did not find compelling evidence that it was effective in increasing bone density. However, it may help prevent large amounts of bone loss.

Overall, more high quality research is necessary to understand the effect resistance training has on bone density and osteoporosis risk.

It is not possible to completely reverse osteoporosis, as bone density naturally decreases with age. However, exercise may help offset bone loss and slow progression, particularly if a doctor diagnoses the condition early.

In a small study from 2022, postmenopausal women with either osteopenia or osteoporosis took part in a 6-month strength training program. The researchers concluded that this appeared to increase bone density.

A 2022 clinician’s guide in the journal Osteoporosis International recommends that people with osteoporosis mix the following types of exercise for best results:

People can start resistance training at any age, but for bone health, earlier is better.

A 2018 study of 295 children ages 8–10 years found that regular physical exercise increased bone mineralization and muscle strength.

One group of children participated in ball games for 40 minutes, three times per week. Another group did circuit training, which is a form of resistance exercise, at the same frequency. Both groups saw positive results over 10 months compared to the control group.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that children between 6 and 17 years get 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous exercise per day, with 3 days per week including muscle and bone-strengthening exercises.

For adults, guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes per day, or 150 minutes per week, of physical activity. Strengthening exercises should take place at least 2 days per week.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) says that, as a general rule, people should aim to exercise each major muscle group at least twice per week, with rests between workouts.

Resistance training is just one type of exercise that may help prevent osteoporosis. It is also important to combine it with weight-bearing exercises, such as:

In addition to exercise, people can protect their bone health by:

  • getting enough calcium
  • getting enough vitamin D
  • limiting alcohol consumption
  • quitting smoking, if necessary
  • checking any medications on whether they could be affecting bone density
  • treat underlying conditions that could affect bone health

If a person suspects their medication or a chronic condition could be affecting their bones, it is important to speak with a doctor. They should not stop taking a medication without first consulting a medical professional.

Research suggests that progressive resistance training, in combination with other types of exercise, can increase bone density. This, in turn, will likely help to prevent osteoporosis.

Resistance training works by putting stress on the bones. When a person does this more than usual, the body responds by making the bones stronger.

People can start resistance training at any age. The CDC recommends strengthening exercises three times per week for children ages 6–17 years and twice per week for adults.