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Osteoporosis and Physical Activity

by Deborah L. Mullen, CSCS 

Health Savings Account
Each day presents itself as an opportunity to enhance your health and fitness level by engaging in physical activity. If you choose to put off until "tomorrow," you miss that opportunity: another check mark is added in the "sedentary day" column and a withdrawal is made from your health savings account. If, however, you choose to be physically active, you make an investment in your health account.

This investment is especially important in combating age-related declines in metabolism, muscle mass and bone density. With regard to osteoporosis, many older people, especially women, have bankrupt health accounts because they didn’t invest in their health when they were younger by exercising regularly and eating properly.

Osteoporosis is caused by the loss of bone mass, creating thin, porous bones which are fragile and easily fractured. Fractures typically occur in the hip, spine and wrist. A hip fracture usually requires hospitalization, can limit a person's ability to walk unassisted and may cause permanent disability or even death. Fractures of the vertebra in the spine also have serious consequences, including loss of height, severe back pain and deformity.

Bone Basics
Bone isn’t a lifeless structure but a complex, living tissue. It has the capacity for growth and regeneration if damaged and is sensitive to the forces it experiences. Bone tissue is constantly undergoing remodeling in which old bone is removed and new bone is formed. After age 35, however, bones begin to break down faster than new bone can be formed. In women, bone loss accelerates after menopause because the ovaries stop producing estrogen, the hormone that protects against bone loss.

The critical years for building bone are before the age of 20. Some experts believe that young women can increase their bone mass by as much as 20 percent - a critical factor in protecting against osteoporosis. In order to stimulate increases in bone density, mothers should provide their daughters with adequate intakes of calcium and vitamin D and make sure they engage in weight-bearing physical activity.

Deposits into your health savings account before the age of 20 are the most beneficial in building up your principal (bone mass). However, if you stop making deposits and become sedentary, you’re essentially making withdrawals which could lead to osteoporosis. Both building and maintaining bone mass is the best defense against developing this disease.

A Mile A Day Slows Bone Loss
According to the U.S. Dept. of Agricultural Research Service women who walk a mile or more a day lose bone more slowly than women who do little walking. The researchers found that the mile-per-day walkers had 7% more bone in their legs than the women who walked less than a mile a day. Also, the exercisers achieved cardiovascular benefits.

Exercise that forces you to work against gravity (weight-bearing exercises) such as jogging, stair climbing, hiking, aerobic dance and racquet sports are beneficial in slowing the rate of bone loss. Remember, however, the benefits of exercise last only as long as you maintain the program.

Strength Training Adds Bone Mass
Until recently, it was thought that after the age of 30, exercise could only reduce the rate of bone loss. However, the latest research performed at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University indicates that strength training at any age can actually add bone, not just slow its loss. Strength training works by applying a force to the bone that creates a stimulus for new bone formation.

In the study, women aged 50 to 70 strength trained twice a week for a year at which time the bone density of their hips and spine was measured. They added about 1%, while the sedentary group had lost about 2.5% bone density. As might be expected, the exercisers also significantly increased their muscle strength.

Strength training can be done anywhere using equipment as simple as dumbbells, rubber tubing and even your own body weight. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) currently recommends strength-training exercise be a component of a well-rounded program for all healthy adults. The ACSM’s recommendation is to perform 8-10 exercises 2-3 times a week, with at least one day of rest between training. One set of 8-12 repetitions per exercise is recommended for general strength training benefits for people under age 50, which will take about 30 minutes to perform. One set of 10-15 reps (more reps performed at a decreased intensity) is recommended for people over 50 or for those with arthritis, previous injuries, or high blood pressure .(If you have any medical condition get your physician's approval before starting a strength training program.)

Remember, building strong bones, especially before the age of 20, can be the best defense against developing osteoporosis and that a healthy lifestyle can be critically important for keeping bones strong. Whatever your age, you need to make deposits into your health savings account today in order to prevent osteoporosis later in life and enjoy an active, physically independent lifestyle.

Find exercise band kits (a simple way to strength train) and other exercise products suitable for older adults at Simple Fitness Solutions.

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