Keeping Osteoporosis At Bay

“Keeping Osteoporosis At Bay” by Joan Aragone was originally published on Mercury News.com

I was on my second cup of coffee recently when I decided to reread a column I wrote two years ago about reversing osteoporosis through lifestyle changes.

The column focused on exercise and weight training as ways to successfully alter a diagnosis of osteoporosis, a skeletal disease that erodes bone density and increases the risk of fractures. According to the National Institutes of Health, 40 million Americans either have osteoporosis or are at high risk due to low bone mass.

Following a bone scan that revealed the condition, I reported at the time that I had outwitted it. I chose to avoid medication and worked hard at a daily program of weightlifting, stretches, tai chi, walking, increased intake of vitamin D and calcium and a major reduction in caffeine intake.

Within a year my diagnosis had reversed to osteopenia — a precursor to osteoporosis. I felt great. I felt proud. And so, being a normal human, I gradually cut back on the weight training and tai chi. I don’t have time. And the caffeine? I forgot about that.

My regimen shrank to taking supplements and walking approximately 30 minutes a day. I did a lot of sitting. But I assuaged my doubts. “My body is doing fine,” I said to myself.

And so, three years later, my latest bone density scan has revealed that the osteoporosis is back.
My experience illustrates what a new study has also confirmed: Strength exercises help build bone density in women with osteoporosis.

And doing nothing makes it worse.

It’s not a revolutionary finding, to be sure, but the report updates a previous 2000 review of research on the subject. The study was published in July by The Cochrane Collection, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Lead author Tracey Howe, of Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland, and colleagues examined 43 studies worldwide that evaluated the effect of exercise programs on the bone health of 4,320 postmenopausal women with osteoporosis.

As expected, they found exercise of all kinds helps avert bone loss in postmenopausal women. But not all exercise is equal in building bone density.

“The review confirms what most of the studies have suggested all along: Weight-bearing exercise is not only helpful, but essential to prevent and to limit osteoporosis in people as they get older,” said Dr. C. David Geier Jr. in a Health Behavior News Service release on the study. Grier is assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and director of the sports medicine program at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Howe’s comment, also included in the release, seemed especially pertinent. “Bone loss is an inevitable part of aging, and our review indicates that exercise appears to slow it down,” Howe said. “But exercise needs to be done on a regular basis, as stopping exercise means bone loss will continue at the same rate as before.”

Tell me about it.

Remember what your mother told you when you went to the beach? “Never turn your back on the ocean. Just when you think everything is fine, it can creep up and grab you.” The same applies for maintaining our health.

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The booklet provides information on risk factors for falls and tips to help avoid them.

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