1. Reaching a point of diminished capacity
An estimated 10 million men and women have osteoporosis, a condition in which the amount of bone tissue has diminished to a point where their bones can easily fracture. Another 34 million have low bone mass levels, to a point where they are at increased risk for this debilitating disease.
2. Breaking news
Osteoporosis is responsible for more than 1.5 million bone fractures annually, usually of the vertebrae, hips, and wrists. The economic impact of osteoporosis is estimated at over four billion dollars annually.
3. Identifying an under-recognized problem
A misconception exists that osteoporosis is a women’s disease. In reality, men make up 20% of all cases of osteoporosis, although the number may be much higher because most men are never screened for the condition, and the fact that few men bother to discuss their osteoporosis-related symptoms with their physician. In fact, men are more likely to suffer from a hip fracture than prostate cancer.
4. Realizing that it’s in the genes
While scientists haven’t been able to determine why some men have osteoporosis and some don’t, they do understand more about how the disease affects women. The following risk factors - which can’t be modified - make women more susceptible to osteoporosis: being a Caucasian or an Asian (although Latinos and Black-Americans are not immune from the disease); having a family history of osteoporosis; having light skin; having a relatively delicate frame; and experiencing early menopause.
5. Lowering the risk
Some of the known risk factors that women have for osteoporosis can be modified, including: sedentary lifestyle; inadequate calcium intake; smoking; consuming more than two alcoholic drinks daily; being underweight; a vitamin D deficiency; and surgically removing the ovaries before menopause.
6. Doing the right thing
Similar to muscles, bones benefit from exercise and shrink from inactivity. While the precise role of exercise in helping to treat and prevent osteoporosis is not completely understood, it is known that the strength of a bone is affected by the physical stress to which it is subjected. All factors considered, the greater the level of physical stress and compression on the bone, the greater the rate of bone deposition.
7. Selecting the right exercise
Because of its ability to exert pressure on the bones, weightbearing exercise (e.g., walking, running, cross-country skiing, racquet sports, etc.) is recommended for individuals who are concerned with their bone health. On the other hand, individuals with osteoporosis may need to avoid engaging in exercise that places undue force on the body’s skeletal system, including high-impact activities, abducting or adducting their legs against resistance, crunches, spinal flexion, etc.
8. Eating the right stuff
Consuming an adequate amount of calcium is critical for building bones. The National Institutes of Health recommend that premenopausal and postmenopausal women should have a minimum daily intake of 1000-1500 and 1200-1500 milligrams of calcium, respectively. Individuals also should eat foodstuffs that contain those nutrients (vitamin D, manganese, fluoride, and protein) that help the body build bone and absorb calcium. By the same token, substances that interfere with calcium absorption (e.g., sodium, phosphorus, caffeine, and alcohol) should be avoided.
9. Getting an early start
Once bone is lost, it can’t be restored with tissue of equal strength. One of the keys to ensuring adequate bone health is to maximize efforts to build strong bones in a person’s twenties and thirties. Collectively, those efforts will help enhance the likelihood that the body’s bone stores will be sufficient when bone density starts to decline.
10. Dealing with athletic amenorrhea
Strenuous exercise causes some women to stop menstruating - a condition commonly known as athletic amenorrhea. One of the primary concerns involving this condition is the fact that it may predispose female athletes to early onset osteoporosis and fractures. Individuals with athletic amenorrhea should consult with their physician to make sure that their condition is not caused by any serious medical problems and to identify an appropriate strategy (e.g., estrogen replacement therapy, weight gain, diet modification, reduced level of training, etc.) to promote the resumption of menses.
James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a freelance writer and consultant in sports medicine. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Peterson was director of sports medicine with StairMaster. Until that time, he was professor of physical education at the United States Military Academy.
Copyright 2010 by the American College of Sports Medicine.