Swimming offers many health benefits, but experts need more evidence before concluding that it can help strengthen bones. Adding weight-bearing exercises into your routine can help you stay active while increasing bone density.

Osteoporosis is a condition involving weakening bones, which can make them more likely to fracture over time. While there’s currently no cure for osteoporosis, there are several ways to manage the condition.

Certain types of exercises, particularly weight-bearing exercises, which require your body to work against gravity, can improve osteoporosis symptoms and reduce your risk of complications, including bone fractures.

While swimming may offer some benefits if you have osteoporosis, there may be more effective forms of exercise.

Here’s a closer look at what the research says about swimming and osteoporosis and other types of exercises to consider.

In a 2020 research review, researchers found that the lumbar vertebral density in swimmers is better than in nonswimmers. Those who swam for 3–6 hours a week had significantly higher bone mineral density (BMD) than nonswimmers.

Based on these findings, researchers concluded that swimming 3–6 hours a week might improve the BMD of those who’ve gone through menopause. But they noted the need for more research on the topic.

The results of the 2020 review are a bit more promising than those of a 2016 review, which concluded that neither swimming nor cycling had positive effects on BMD.

If you enjoy swimming, it can be a good way to keep active. But if you’re looking for exercises to help with osteoporosis, there may be better options than swimming alone.

Experts recommend weight-bearing exercises for osteoporosis. During weight-bearing exercises, the tendons and muscles in your body cause tension in your bones, leading them to produce more tissue. Over time, weight-bearing exercises can help improve bone density.

Unlike swimming, weight-bearing exercises cause your bones to work against gravity. Over time, this can strengthen them.

Examples of weight-bearing cardio exercises include:

  • jogging
  • speed walking
  • jumping rope
  • hiking
  • Pilates
  • running or jogging on a treadmill
  • using an elliptical machine
  • aerobics
  • stair climbing
  • dancing
  • pickleball

Muscle-building weight-bearing exercises that are beneficial for osteoporosis include:

  • weightlifting
  • bicep curls
  • foot stomps
  • shoulder lifts
  • squats
  • hamstring curls
  • hip leg lifts
  • standing on one leg

Learn more about exercises for osteoporosis.

While low impact activities like swimming may offer a few benefits for osteoporosis, high impact activity can put too much stress on weakened bones. This can lead to fractures or other injuries.

Mid-level impact activity can be the sweet spot if you have osteoporosis since the contact with gravity can help build up bone strength — without the risk of fractures.

Keep in mind that osteoporotic fractures happen more frequently in the spine, so you may want to avoid any exercises that make you bend at the waist or twist your spine.

Exercises you may want to avoid include:

  • sit-ups and crunches
  • golf
  • tennis
  • skiing
  • horseback riding
  • yoga positions where you have to twist or curve your spine
  • full or partial backbends
  • running or jumping fast or on tough surfaces like pavement
  • any activity where you’re more likely to fall
  • contact sports

Some of these exercises may still be safe if you have mild osteoporosis. Talk with your healthcare professional about specific exercises to avoid so you can make the most of your workouts and reduce your risk of complications.

Learn more about exercises to avoid when you have osteoporosis.

Swimming offers plenty of health benefits, but experts need more research before they can conclude whether improving bone density is one of them. If you have osteoporosis and enjoy swimming, there’s no need to stop. Just consider adding some mid-impact weight-bearing exercises, like walking or weightlifting, to help strengthen your bones.