Exercise for Bone Health: Part Two, Middle Age

Lila de Tantillo Health Guide
  • Yen Cheong, a New Yorker in her 30s, works out regularly for the sake of her overall health. Every week she runs about 25 miles and takes at least three spinning classes. But while the regimen is great for her heart, she knows she must take special care of her bones - as an Asian woman with a slender build, she could be at particular at risk of developing osteoporosis. For this reason she also incorporates regular weight training into her routine - with free weights, weight machines and even push-ups.


    "Hopefully I can keep it up for years, because I know how important strength training is as you age," says Yen, who also makes a point consume extra calcium by drinking milk and eating yogurt.

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    The best time to combat osteoporosis is before it begins. For most people, bone mass reaches a peak between ages 25 and 30, and declines from there. Women, whose bones are generally smaller than those of men, are especially at risk, and weight bearing exercise can be a crucial part of combating this process. "Strength training is even more important for women than it is for men," says Dr. Michael Hewitt, research director for exercise science and exercise physiology at Canyon Ranch Health Resort in Tucson, Ariz. "Most of what we attribute to aging is really disuse atrophy."


    A person who begins exercising before undergoing significant bone loss also has more flexibility in terms of what type of exercise may be suitable. Activities such as racquet sports, riding a bike or exercise boot camp are usually still feasible during middle age, especially with a doctor's go-ahead. Certain moves, such as the alternating overhead presses with dumbbells, can be especially beneficial for the bone density of the spinal column.


    "The whole goal is to challenge at a level that brings about change but doesn't cause injury," says Dr. Hewitt.


    While weight-bearing exercise can be very beneficial to bone health, however, there are special measures athletes should take to ensure their workout does not have a negative effect on their skeleton. Dr. Richard Henrys, an orthopedic surgeon in Miami who specializes in spinal surgery, has had two women patients with spinal compression fractures after doing military presses weightlifting.


    "You should avoid exercises that cause stress to the back," says Dr. Henrys.


    Especially for those just starting out, it may be preferable to do more repetitions with lighter weights than to attempt to lift too much at once. In addition, a complete workout should incorporate flexibility and balance exercises along with those to preserve a range of motion.


    Another key priority for those committed to exercise is to ensure an adequate intake of nutrients such as calcium to make up for what is depleted in exercise.


    "You lose calcium in your sweat, and you have to replace that," explains Dr. Robert Recker, chief of the Endocrinology Division at Creighton University Medical Center's Osteoporosis Research Center. Dr. Recker adds that someone who exercises heavily may need to take 1,500 mg of calcium daily - or even more than the standard adult guidelines of 1,000 mg through age 49 and 1,200 mg for those 50 and older.

Published On: January 14, 2008