Prevention key to bone disease

Osteoporosis can lead to debilitating, painful fractures

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— Osteoporosis is a hot topic today, especially among women over the age of 40. A disease that causes decreased bone mass, osteoporosis can lead to debilitating and painful fractures if allowed to progress.

Factors that determine bone density include genetics, mineral balance that is hormonally controlled, lifestyle, physical activity and nutrition. Consuming adequate amounts of calcium and participating in weight-bearing activities beginning in early childhood help to build a healthy skeleton.

At about 35 years of age, our bone-building cells continue to deposit bone, but the rate of growth slows down. At the same time, the number of cells that break down bone increases. After the age of 40, bone loss can be as much as one percent per year. Because the female hormone estrogen helps the absorption of calcium, women are more vulnerable to bone density losses around menopause when estrogen levels decline.

If you're concerned about your bone density, ask your physician to order a bone densitometry test. The best diagnostic test is the dual energy X-ray absorptiometry. This non-invasive technique performed at Yampa Valley Medical Center uses a low-dose X-ray to measure the spine and upper femur bone of the hip joint.

Osteoporosis may be prevented by consuming adequate amounts of calcium, not smoking, limiting alcohol use and getting plenty of weight-bearing exercise and resistance training. Hormone replacement therapy may also play a role.

Bone is a living dynamic tissue. It's stimulated by mechanical stress during weight-bearing activities. Resistance exercises are important components of maintaining strong bones through our life spans.

Your bones are stimulated to grow when your feet repeatedly hit the ground. The bones of the hip and spine benefit the most from activities such as walking, running or cross-country skiing.

Constant pulling of muscles on the bones also helps bone cell growth. Muscles are connected to bones by their tendons. As muscles contract, the tendons pull and create stress on the bones. This force on the bone stimulates it to grow. The stronger the muscles, the more stimulation to the bones, and the stronger they become. The benefits of weight training continue beyond your workouts.

Dr. Miriam E. Nelson, author of "Strong Women, Strong Bones," studied the bone density of postmenopausal women. Her research showed women who did strength training twice a week for one year gained bone density and strength and improved their balance.

Weight-training programs for osteoporosis prevention focus on the back, hips, upper legs, shoulders and arms. A combination of strength training and weight-bearing aerobics is recommended for osteoporosis prevention and cardiovascular benefits.

If you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you should work with a knowledgeable professional. Avoid activities that require bending at the waist, jumping or high-impact exercises that might jar your spine and activities that increase your risk for falling.

Marti Irish has a master's degree in physical therapy and works for SportsMed at Yampa Valley Medical Center and the Yampa Valley Health Plan Wellness Program. She also teaches an introductory strength-training class for women over 40.

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