exercise can maintain & build new bone ...

Osteoporosis is a disease that chips away at both your bone density and strength. It is more common in women, but can also affect men. Osteoporosis can lead to broken bones, general fragility and poor posture. Severe disability can result after fractures if major bones are damaged and unable to rebuild. The good news is that even if you already have osteoporosis or a family member has it (putting you at greater risk of developing the disease), or you are just concerned about your future, exercise is a great way to maintain and build on the bone density that you currently have!

What is the Difference Between Osteoporosis & Osteopenia?

Osteoporosis  is a generalized disorder where bone tissue is reduced in quantity and quality. Bones are therefore easily susceptible to breaking. It is usually defined by the consequences of having weak bones (increased risk of fracture, pain, deformity, etc.), not necessarily the symptoms.

Osteopenia is a precursor to osteoporosis, meaning there is some loss in bone density and strength, but not enough to classify as full-blown osteoporosis.

What are the Risks & How do I Know if I Have Osteoporosis?

  • Inactivity
  • Genetic/Heredity
  • Smoking
  • Menopause
  • Advancing age
  • Chronic diseases (Diabetes, AIDS, Hyperthyroidism etc.) associated with osteoporosis
The best thing to do to determine if you have osteoporosis is to have a Bone Mineral Density (BMD) test, along with a thorough physical examination including a detailed history to ensure there are no secondary bone loss factors.

A BMD Test Will ...

  • Measure bone density
  • Detect osteoporosis before a fracture occurs
  • Help reduce the chance of future fracture
  • Monitor the effectiveness of treatments for osteoporosis

Interpreting Your Bone Density Results & DEXA Scans

The most common type of BMD test is the DEXA Scan (Dual X-Ray Absorptiometry). It measures the amount of minerals specific to each area, exposes the patient to less radiation than some other tests, can help predict risk of bone fracture, and is very accurate. DEXA uses two different X-ray beams to estimate bone density in the hip and spine. The amounts of each X-ray beam that are blocked by bone and soft tissue are then compared to each other in terms of how much of the beam passes through; bones with higher mineral density do not allow as much of the beam through.

Exercise & Bone Density: The Benefit of Training

Exercise seems to be the key to reducing most health problems. Osteoporosis is a condition that can be prevented and reversed by weight-bearing exercise. Proper exercise can not only slow bone loss, but can also add new bone. Small gains in bone mineral can result in large improvements in bone strength because new bone formation is often localized to bone surfaces where mechanical strains (stresses) are greatest.

Exercise, especially resistance exercise, allows calcium and magnesium to be better absorbed by bone, since bone responds to external mechanical stress. If you never stress the bones (sedentary lifestyle is the main factor for most people), the body assumes that there is no need to hold on to bone minerals, and bones become weak. The type, frequency, mode and length of exercise sessions are critical to making a real difference with respect to combating osteoporosis. Losing weight in a healthy manner is also important, especially with women; dropping a lot of weight too quickly or through unsafe methods can actually increase the risk of osteoporosis and other health problems.

Nutrition & Bone Health

An adequate supply of both calcium and vitamin D as children and adolescents is essential to support healthy bone growth, and this importance continues as adults, where increasing intake of these nutrients can reduce bone loss and preserve bone mass. Since both the body's calcium absorption capabilities as well as its ability to activate vitamin D decline with age, it becomes critical that an individual’s diet is providing more than enough of these nutrients to maintain good health and take a proactive measure to avoid osteoporosis.

There are many calcium sources that can be incorporated into a daily diet to ensure individuals are meeting their adequate intake, dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese are the best, most direct and abundant sources of calcium. However, there are also nonmilk sources such as tofu, almonds, sesame seeds, bok choy, kale, parsnips, watercress and broccoli, which can be incorporated into a balanced diet and provide a significant amount of calcium per serving as well.

Conclusion

Scientific research exemplifies how important exercise and nutrition are to bone health. Making healthy lifestyle choices is always a good idea, regardless of whether you have been diagnosed with this condition. Prevention is the key - and it is never too early to start.

Working with a qualified professional who knows about osteoporosis, how to train someone with it, and how to prevent bone loss is also extremely important in order to derive maximum benefit and avoid future complications.
References:
1. Bone Mineral Density (2007). BC Health Guide.
2. Graci S, DeMarco C, Rao L. (2006). The Bone Building Solution. John Wiley and Sons: Canada.
3. Osteoporosis Education a Priority in New York State (2004). New York State, Dept. of Health. <
4. Turner CH and Robling AG. (2005). Exercises for Improving Bone Strength. Journal of Sports Medicine. 39;188-189.
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