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Mon, March 18

May is National Osteoporosis Awareness Month

More that a half a million people over the age of 50 in Arizona have osteoporosis or are at risk of getting the disease that weakens bones and increases the risk of fractures.

With a recent study revealing that 50 percent of women over the age of 50 have low bone density, the numbers of potential future victims is staggering.

However, local health care professionals say that osteoporosis is preventable.

"Prevention of the disease is simple.

Eat high-calcium foods, do weight-bearing exercises and lead a generally healthy lifestyle, said Mary Jane Marsh, instructional specialist at the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension office in Kingman.

Marsh, a registered nurse who coordinates educational programs throughout the county, said osteoporosis is a common disease, but preventable.

She added that those who don't exercise and stay on a high calcium diet are candidates for osteoporosis, a bone disease caused by lack of calcium, inactivity and certain medications.

Family history and lifestyle choices also play a role in getting the disease.

Although more likely to strike postmenopausal women, men are not immune (one in nine is affected) and they, as well, should take steps to reduce bone loss, according to Exercise physiologist Dianne Daniels, author of "Exercises

for Osteoporosis published by Hatherleigh Press.

Daniels, who has a master's degree in exercise physiology and is a former health educator with the New York City Department for the Aging, now runs a personal training business.

Osteoporosis literally means, "thinning bone."

When bone architecture has deteriorated in this manner a fracture may be just around the corner.

While every bone in the body is at risk, the spine and the hip are the most susceptible, according to Daniels.

A fracture in one of these two sites may cause the independent lifestyle to be lost forever.

Prolonged bed rest as the result of a hip fracture can even cause death.

In the book Daniels puts to rest the myth that walking builds bone and therefore can prevent osteoporosis.

She explains that while walking is a wonderful, heart-healthy exercise, and can be part of a program to prevent osteoporosis, it is not the whole story.

To cause bone to grow it must be challenged with new, added weight, not the same load over and over again, as with walking.

She states that the best strategy is to make strength training (also called resistance training or weight training) a part of any osteoporosis-fighting plan.

Slowly and progressively adding additional weight can cause new bone growth to occur.

When this type of exercise is combined with osteoporosis medications prescribed by a doctor, the effect is additive and creates even greater positive results.

"You don't need to go to a gym or use any special equipment to wage an effective campaign," Daniels adds.

She suggests using soup cans, elastic tubing, or easily affordable hand and ankle weights.

Before doing these or any exercises, always check first with a doctor.

Weight training has other beneficial side effects; it can help improve balance, thereby making falls and fractures less likely.

It can make everyday activities such as shopping, climbing up stairs and cleaning easier and more enjoyable to do, Daniels said.

However, at a gym many of the exercises can actually put someone in jeopardy, as certain body positions may cause a fracture in a person with severe


She added that older people should avoid bending over, doing traditional abdominal crunches, holding something at arm's length, or twisting rapidly from side to side.

In her book, Daniels gives specific exercises to improve balance, and many ways to increase bone density.

Also included are osteoporosis-friendly exercises targeted for the

abdominals, a body part almost everyone seems to cast a critical eye on.

A bone-density test, performed at hospitals and some health care facilities can be used as an indicational tool to gauge the risk of contracting the disease, Marsh said.

Arizona Osteoporosis Centers - with offices in Lake Havsau City, Mohave Valley and recently in Kingman - conducts osteoporosis presentations and free bone density tests at schools, senior centers, nursing homes and schools, said Debra Johnson, the nurse educator for the centers.

"Most people need to understand that by following good bone health this is a disease that by the next generation could almost be eradicated," Johnson said at the Kathryn Heidenreich Adult Center Tuesday.

Johnson, a registered nurse, added that common sense tips can help prevent osteoporosis.

Prevention starts with a healthy diet, a vitamin supplement and a 1000-milligram calcium supplement a day along with a walking program, she said.

"Even if someone finds they have osteoporosis there are new medicines out on the market," she said.

Contact Marsh at the University of Arizona Mohave County Cooperative Extension at 753-3788.

"Exercises for Osteoporosis" is available from bookstores, or can be ordered directly from the publisher at 1-800-528-2550.


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