It’s all in the name: osteo, meaning “bone,” and porosis, meaning “a porous condition” – bones in a porous condition. Osteoporosis is a thinning of the bones that occurs over time. The condition affects tens of millions of Americans, and although both genders are susceptible, women with the condition outnumber men four to one, most often in post-menopausal women due to the loss of the hormone estrogen. It is estimated that more than one million bone fractures each year result from osteoporosis, and many who suffer these fractures never fully recover.
The risk of osteoporosis is influenced by many factors such as age, sex, diet, physical activity, medication use and menopausal status. And while we may not have influence over some of these risk factors, two that are completely within our control are diet and physical activity.
Calcium is a building block of bone tissue and a lack of it in the diet is a major risk factor of osteoporosis. Vitamin D works to aid in the absorption of calcium, and many people don’t get enough sunlight to maintain proper Vitamin D levels. Talk to your family physician about your diet, your calcium and Vitamin D levels, and whether you should be taking a supplement.
Evidence shows that exercise may help build and maintain bone density at any age. Just like muscles, when a bone is placed under stress it must become stronger to adequately deal with that stress. Weight bearing activities place compression forces on the spine and long bones of the legs and encourage bone density. Walking, jumping, and step aerobics are examples of these types of activities; so are squats and deadlifts in weight lifting. Chest presses load the long bones of the arms with compression forces. And while strength-training exercises don’t expose bones to compression load, they do pull on the bones. These loads, called shearing forces, also stimulate bone production, thereby increasing their density.
While all methods of exercise benefit the body in some way, if you are concerned with your bone density or have a family history of osteoporosis or osteopenia (low bone density) weight bearing exercises and strength training should be the chosen methods. A program consisting of at least 2 or 3 days a week of walking, strength training, and/or group exercise will be sufficient to maintain bone health. Activities that are not weight bearing, like cycling and swimming, will not aid in the production of new bone tissue.
Although bone can be maintained at any age, building bone density early in life is the best way to prevent osteoporosis later. Bone density peaks around the age of 30 and denser bone formed during childhood is carried through into adulthood. Those of us beyond that point can certainly take steps to reduce the loss of bone tissue that accompanies aging. But, more importantly, we should be encouraging our daughters, granddaughters, and nieces to begin physical activity early and continue it throughout their early adult years. They will appreciate the payoff when they are our age!
The JRMC Wellness Centers, located in Pine Bluff and White Hall, offer a variety of fitness options for all ages and interests. Free weights, machines, cardio equipment, personal trainers and a full schedule of Les Mills classes are available at both facilities. For more information call the Pine Bluff (541-7890) or White Hall (850-8000) facility.