By Stephenie Karony

Wednesday, October 27, 1999

Osteoporosis prevention
with weights

Question: I'm a 59 year old woman worried about developing osteoporosis. I've read that weight training helps reduce the risk of me getting this disease. If this is true, how do I go about getting started?

Answer: It's true that exercising with weights will help prevent osteoporosis. Here's how to get started. Call all the gyms in your area and find out which ones employ trainers certified by the American Council on Exercise, the American College of Sports Medicine or the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Next, visit the gyms that have certified trainers on staff. You can then decide which facility best serves your needs. After becoming a member, set up appointments with the individual trainers and pick out the person with whom you feel most comfortable. Please make sure the trainer you hire is certified.

Osteoporosis is the progressive weakening of the bones due to mineral loss. It causes bones to become less dense, causing a stooped posture and increasing the risk of broken bones. This latter risk, especially, must be taken seriously. For example, if you fail to protect your bone density, a simple fall in your golden years can break your hip, and few individuals over 65 or 70 ever completely recover from a broken hip. Very often, in fact, a broken hip starts a downward health spiral.

Regularly doing some form of weight-bearing exercise is crucial to the prevention of osteoporosis. Calcium is deposited in the bones in proportion to the amount of stress (load) placed on the bones. Bones adapt to exercise by becoming denser and stronger, so they can provide sufficient support for the muscles. Lifting weights is the fastest, most effective way to preserve and increase bone mass because it is also the fastest, most effective way to build muscle.

For weight lifting to affect bone density, you must lift enough weight to overload the muscle -- you have to train to the point of "muscle failure." Please note that training to muscle failure does not mean you need to spend a lot of time in the gym. It's a matter of technique, not time. If you begin even a modest program of resistance training and stick with it for the rest of your life, you're helping to guarantee that you'll maintain your health and vitality to an old age.

To get the maximum benefit possible from weight training, become aware of some of the other things you can do to decrease your risk of osteoporosis. Here are the key lifestyle factors that contribute to osteoporosis:

Poor diet, including too much of the following:

1. Alcohol -- high consumption interferes with calcium absorption.
2. Red meat -- diets high in animal protein increase calcium excretion. Meat, in particular, is an acidic food. Calcium is excreted in high amounts to neutralize the acid.
3. Sodium -- too much salt causes calcium excretion.
4. Soda -- phosphates found in soda interfere with the absorption of calcium into the body.

A diet that does not contain enough of the following:

1. Dark green vegetables
2. Calcium foods (people over 50 need 1000-1800 mg. of calcium a day)
3. Vitamin D

Smoking -- quit!

Stress -- we all have it, but we can learn to manage it effectively

Sedentary lifestyle -- exercise.

Females being below 12 percent body fat for long periods of time. Being this thin can interfere with the menstrual cycle. Menstruation can even stop. This causes a drop in the production of estrogen, which in turn causes mineral loss from bones. If you are not having your period, gain weight. If an eating disorder or psychological problem is at the root of it, get help -- your long-term health is at serious risk.

Stephenie Karony is a certified health
and fitness instructor, a personal trainer and the author of
"Body Shaping with Free Weights." Send questions to her at
P.O. Box 262, Wailuku Hi. Her column appears on Wednesdays.

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