Exercise can make or break your defense against osteoporosis. Although all exercise is beneficial to overall good health, weight-bearing exercise (any exercise in which your feet and legs bear your weight while performing it) may be the most important for preventing osteoporosis because it creates high pressure on the bone, which helps to build and maintain its strength. This includes brisk walking, dancing, racket sports and aerobics. Muscle strengthening exercise may also be beneficial, particularly for the large muscles of the shoulder, pelvis, hips, back and trunk.
In addition to its critical role in helping to reduce bone loss, exercise has plenty of other health benefits. For one, it helps to improve balance, an important consideration for older women who are at greatest risk for falling and breaking bones. If you do not routinely exercise, ask your health care professional to recommend a simple, safe program and start soon.
For muscle strengthening, you can use stationary weight machines at health clubs and gyms, and you can use free weights or elastic bands in the gym or at home. The important thing to remember is that you don't have to lift heavy weights to benefit from strength training. You should start with a light weight and gradually increase your repetitions and/or resistance as your strength increases. The goal is to build bone strength — not muscle mass, which requires numerous lifts with heavy weights.
A recent study, whose results surprised even the researchers who conducted it, showed that gardening went a long way to help reduce the risk for osteoporosis among the 3,310 women age 50 and older involved in the study. Gardening activities such as raking, thrusting a shovel into the ground, moving a wheelbarrow filled with dirt, weeds or mulch are all considered weigh-bearing exercises.
Copyright 2003 National Women's Health Resource Center Inc. (NWHRC).