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Today, Oct. 20, is World Osteoporosis Day.

Let's join the National Osteoporosis Foundation across the globe in raising awareness and resources to promote better bone health!

Osteoporosis is a medical condition in which bones become brittle and fragile from loss of tissue. The bones become porous, so the density and quality of the bone is reduced. This condition puts a person at risk for hip and spine fractures, and in extreme cases makes it difficult to do normal daily activities and movement.

Bone loss and muscle atrophy occurs as a normal aging process. The rate at which that loss occurs can be up to you.

So, what can we do to help prevent osteoporosis and decrease the rate of bone loss if it has already occurred?

Exercise, of course!

Have you heard the saying, "If exercise could be packed into a pill, it would be the most widely prescribed medication in the nation?" I truly believe that, and when it comes to strengthening the bones and decreasing your risk from the negative effects of osteoporosis, exercise is a huge key!

Osteoporosis runs strongly in my family. I saw my grandmother significantly lose her height and ability to get around due to the loss of bone mass. She got to the point where even turning over in bed would be hard on her spine. My mother has also battled the bone density issues and her doctor has told her to tell her four girls to be aware of this, to get plenty of exercise to keep our bones strong.

So both the doctor and I agree — exercise is a great medicine for keeping our bones strong and preventing osteoporosis.

How can exercise help? A sedentary lifestyle (little exercise) encourages the loss of bone mass. Exercising regularly can reduce the rate of bone loss. Most bone fractures occur because of a fall. You can reduce your chances of falling by exercising to build your muscle strength and improve your balance.

Exercise aids in the reduction of bone loss, improves your muscle strength, improved reaction time, increases mobility, gives one a better sense of balance and coordination, reduces the risk of bone fractures by reducing the chances of falling, reduces pain, and promotes better mood and vitality.

I recently reassessed a member at the Sam B. Cook Healthplex. She said at about age 55, she was told she has had signs of low bone mass. She was advised to get a lot of walking for weight bearing exercise. She said was doing good, but in 2015, when she began doing some strength training exercise that I helped her with, she and her doctor noticed the rate of loss declining. She has been doing posture and balance exercises along with the weight bearing exercise and is feeling great.

I recommend a combination of weight-bearing aerobic and muscle-building (resistance) exercise with specific balance exercises as the best over-all program for osteoporosis prevention. The weight bearing aerobic exercise includes walking, dancing and stepping. Resistance exercise is where the muscle pulls on the bones as you perform the training. With resistance training, you use free weights such as dumbbells and barbells, elastic band resistance and body-weight resistance or weight-training machines. I also recommend exercises to improve posture, balance exercises, tai chi and standing functional movements.

Water exercise is also good for those that have already seen the negative effects of osteoporosis. Swimming and water exercise are not weight-bearing exercises, because the buoyancy of the water counteracts the effects of gravity. However, exercising in water can improve your cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength. People with severe osteoporosis or kyphosis (hunching of the upper back) who are at high risk of bone fractures may find that swimming or water exercise is their preferred activity.

Of course, there are several other things that can also help or hinder you in your quest for strong bones. Risk factors out of your control include sex, age, body build, family history and race. But the things we can control, such as cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption, lack of exercise and a diet low in calcium, are important to watch.

So eat healthy and exercise — both great medicine for keeping our bones strong and preventing osteoporosis!

Kay Benward is an exercise specialist and supervisor at the Sam B. Cook Healthplex Fitness Center. She has been with Capital Region Medical Center for 29 years and inspired many people to lead healthy lives through exercise. She continues to teach classes and enjoys training the mature adult for balance, posture and functional strength, as well as educating her clients, staff and community on exercise as medicine.

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