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Exercise and Osteoporosis: A Primer on Tomorrow's Therapy

© Eric P. Durak MSc

Perhaps the worst health epidemic in this country is one that few people recognize as an epidemic at all. It will affect more people than heart disease, stroke, or cancer. One in every two women over the age of 60, and one in every two men over the age of 80 is at risk. This epidemic is osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is defined as a a reduced density of the bone. The causes seem to be multiple, but inadequate storage of calcium during the younger years, and a rapid loss of calcium after middle age are the main culprits.

A net loss of calcium occurs in many adults, especially women after menopause or hysterectomy suggest that hormonal changes may be responsible. Many minerals and vitamins are required to form and stabilize the structure of bones, including magnesium, fluoride, vitamin A, and others. Any of these may be essential for preventing osteoporosis. One obvious line of defense is to maintain a lifelong adequate intake of calcium.

Although calcium seems to be one of the most talked-about types of therapy, most medical practitioners are touting HRT (hormone replacement therapy) to keep the regulation of hormones constant in the system. After a hysterectomy, the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and to a lesser extent, testosterone, which are normally secreted by the ovaries to influence general health, bone strength, sexuality, and reproduction, no longer secrete. It is then prescribed medically to mimic these levels.

However, many women are concerned about the association of hormone therapy and the increased incidence of cancer, and some of hysterectomy in general. A logical question to ask is: what, if any measure may be taken to prevent the decline in hormones later in life, and help with a decline in overall function after menopause. One measure may be exercise. It has been shown to have profound effects on overall health, reduction of cardiovascular disease, increase in bone strength, reduction in body fat, increases in self esteem, improvement in muscle mass Ð even after 80 years of age.

With all of these positive benefits, why aren't more people taking advantage of exercise as both a preventive and therapeutic avenue for improved health for osteoporosis. One - there is simply not enough information about the benefits that filters down to the general population. In many physician's offices, there is a lack of information that is dispensed to patients. The results of many sports medicine studies are not reported on a regular basis, and perhaps the most important Ð the correct type of exercise program may not be provided to the general population.

Most people are convinced after 20 years of reports that aerobic conditioning is the most beneficial type of exercise for most conditions, whether they are cardiovascular, or orthopedic. Aerobic training does produce many important physiological changes in the body. However, the specific needs of many individuals, especially those over 60 years of age have to do with functional ability Ð or the need to perform day to day tasks without undo effort. Strength training is coming into its own as an important aspect of overall health, and not just to improve sports performance.

In almost everyone with osteoporosis, the density of the bone in the lower lumbar, and femoral neck regions are most affected by mineral loss. The effect of strength training is to enhance the uptake of minerals by the bone to handle the stress imposed by the increased stress of lifting weights. This increased stress must produce some physical change in the muscle, tendon, and bone, or else injury will occur. Therefore, a properly designed program will avoid injury, and strength the musculature while adding density to the bone over time.

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About The Author
Eric Durak received his Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan in 1986. His research experience is in the application of exercise for special population groups, such as diabetes, high risk pregnancy, cancer, and metabolic disorders. He has published scientific articles in journals such as: The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Diabetes Care, The......more
 
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