Health Watch -- Give Bones a Workout

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Staying active may be the key to staying strong.

About 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, a deterioration of the bones, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Even more people, about 34 million, have low bone mass, which is a risk factor for osteoporosis. Most of these people are women, who are most likely to lose significant amounts of bone mass in the years following menopause. Dr. Khashayar Sakhaee, an osteoporosis expert at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, says that bone loss is excessive in the 10 years following menopause, and while the loss slows down after that, the risk for fractures due to weakened bones is already there.

But it is possible to prevent or reduce the impact of osteoporosis. You have to give your bones a good workout. Research has shown that women who exercise regularly with weights or who do exercise that requires bones to bear weight lose less bone mass after menopause than women who don't exercise. Just walking and lifting light hand weights several times a week can make a big difference.

Dr. Sakhaee says it's also essential to maintain a good diet in order to prevent osteoporosis. To have healthy bones, you need 800 to 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 800 units of vitamin D a day - in addition to regular exercise. Low-fat or fat-free dairy products such as skim milk, yogurt and cottage cheese are good sources of calcium, but most women don't get enough calcium from diet alone. So you may need to take a calcium supplement, as well.

Don't wait until you're older to worry about osteoporosis. Building strong bones while you're young will pay off when you're older.

July 11, 2003