Is Swimming Good For Osteoporosis?

Box of stretch bands
Swimming is a great exercise for many different reasons, but it may not be as good for your bones as you'd like it to be.
Disclaimer: If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Well Guide contain information from peer-reviewed research, medical societies and governmental agencies; however, these articles are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

For many, swimming is one most relaxing ways to exercise. Now that it's summer, many of you might be wondering if swimming is a good exercise for your bones.

While relaxing, don’t misunderstand; it’s a challenging workout that taxes nearly every muscle in the body, including the heart. It might seem easy because the buoyancy of the water makes you feel weightless. However, the weightlessness of the water also means that swimming is considered a non-impact exercise, making it a perfect exercise routine for those battling arthritis, joint pain, or other injuries (Alkatan, 2016).

But is swimming good for you if you have osteoporosis? Don’t replace your walking shoes with a bathing suit quite yet.

Health Benefits of Swimming

Besides working nearly all of the muscles in your body, swimming torches calories. A 160-lb person can burn up to 715 calories in just an hour-long swim. 

Swimmers have half the risk of death compared to inactive people, and regular dips in the pool are shown to help:

  • Increase lung capacity
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Decrease stress levels
  • Improve mental health 

It’s also an effective way to improve your sleep. More than one in four women report experiencing insomnia, so incorporating swimming into a workout routine can help you get some shut eye. 

Swimming and Osteoporosis

While swimming a few laps on a regular basis can help improve your life in multiple ways, it’s unlikely to do anything to improve symptoms of osteoporosis. 

Both resistance training and weight-bearing exercises are considered to be the best workouts for osteoporosis, thanks to their ability to help build and maintain muscle mass. (Porter, 2021) Lifting free weights, weight machines, and resistance bands are all types of resistance training that not only help increase muscle mass, but also promote bone repair and growth. 

Weight-bearing exercise is any exercise that requires you to support your own body weight to move. Walking, hiking, dancing, and using an elliptical machine are all examples of weight-bearing exercise that, like resistance training, help slow bone loss and improve bone strength.

But you can’t just do one or the other: One meta-analysis of post-menopausal women found that combining resistance training and weight-bearing exercise increases bone mineral density than just one or the other. (Zhao, 2015)

The Effect of Swimming on Bone Strength

Unfortunately, there  is no direct link between swimming and increased bone strength. A meta-analysis of 18 studies on swimming found that swimming doesn’t provide any bone-strengthening benefits for women. (Abrahin, 2016)

It’s a bummer, but swimming isn’t the only workout that doesn’t provide any positive benefits for bones. Both cycling and rowing are not considered to be good options for bone strength because, like swimming, they’re non weight bearing—A.K.A. you don’t have to hold your own body weight up because the water, bicycle, or rowing machine does that for you.

That said, swimming isn’t shown to have a negative impact on bone strength—it simply won’t help bones in the same way that weight-bearing exercises and resistance training do.

The Bottom Line

While swimming isn’t an ideal exercise for osteoporosis, it does provide numerous benefits for overall cardiovascular health and can help you maintain or loss body weight. 

Swimming shouldn’t be your only workout if you’re trying to build or maintain bone mass. Instead, it can complement a bone-building workout routine for osteoporosis that includes weight-bearing exercises and resistance training, along with exercises for flexibility, posture, and core strength.

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References

Alkatan M, Baker JR, Machin DR, Park W, Akkari AS, Pasha EP, Tanaka H. Improved Function and Reduced Pain after Swimming and Cycling Training in Patients with Osteoarthritis. The Journal of Rheumatology. 2016 Mar;43(3):666-72. doi: 10.3899/jrheum.151110. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26773104/.

Porter, J. & Varacallo, M. (2021, June 24). Osteoporosis. StatPearls Publishing. Treasure Island, FL. Retrieved from ​​https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441901/ 

Zhao R, Zhao M, Xu Z. The effects of differing resistance training modes on the preservation of bone mineral density in postmenopausal women: A meta-analysis. Osteoporosis International. 2015;26(5):1605-1618. doi:10.1007/s00198-015-3034-0. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00198-015-3034-0. 

Abrahin O, Rodrigues RP, Marçal AC, Alves EA, Figueiredo RC, de Sousa EC. Swimming and cycling do not cause positive effects on bone mineral density: a systematic review. Revista Brasileira de Reumatologia (English Edition). 2016 Jul-Aug;56(4):345-51. doi: 10.1016/j.rbre.2016.02.013. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27476628/.