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Exercise can help combat osteoporosis

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Osteoporosis can be crippling. It can affect men and women between the ages of 40 and 70, but an estimated 80 percent of people affected by loss of bone mass are women. Lack of weight-bearing activity, certain medications, lack of estrogen production and family history are just a few of the risk factors that may cause osteoporosis.

People affected by osteoporosis may believe any type of activity, such as walking or cycling, will increase the density of the targeted bone.

This is not always the case. If a person has walked for the past few years it is unlikely that it will contribute to any increase in bone mineral density, especially in the hip and spine region.

In order to increase bone mineral density by a projected 0.5 percent each year, people should include definite training components into their exercise program.

These are weight-bearing exercise, resistance training of the large and small muscle groups, balance exercises (tai chai), modified abdominal endurance training and specific joint range-of-motion exercises.

Weight-bearing exercise should consist of locomotion-type activities, such as skipping, hopping and low-level jumping. A group of researchers studied the effects of 50 low-level jumps using one's own body weight, five to six times each week.

They revealed that jumps induced a bending of the femur bone, which is located in the upper thigh. The researchers discovered that exercise stimulus must exceed normal daily activity levels in order to promote increased bone mineral density.

When starting a resistance-training program, begin using light weights with a higher number of repetitions to build endurance and slowly progress to lifting heavier weights with a low number of repetitions.

This type of strength training can increase strength levels and may trigger bending of the stimulated bone.

Exercises should consist of legs (squats), back (upper, mid and lower) (lat pull-downs using reverse grip), shoulders and forearm bones (one arm alternating dumbbell presses), and abdomen (reverse crunches).

The strength-training program is the most important part of the exercise regime for the individual affected by osteoporosis.

It is important that no chest (i.e., bench press) exercise or frontal shoulder strength exercises be performed.

These types of movements may promote a continual muscle imbalance between chest and back muscles. Some people may have very strong and overdeveloped pectorals and frontal deltoid muscles, in comparison to the muscles located in the back.

These muscle imbalances may cause an excessive forward lean, further contributing to improper posture and spinal alignment.

When starting a strength-training program it is recommended that patients have a bone mineral density test ordered by the physician.

Many tests are used to assess bone density. However, one of the most accurate tests is dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry.

Based on the results of the test, physicians are able to diagnose the bones most affected by osteoporosis.

The patient should then seek approval from the physician to start a strength-training regimen based on the physician's recommendations.