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Rebuilding brittle bones.

Rebuilding Brittle Bones

Strict adherence to a program of simple exercises -- walking, jogging, climbing stairs -- increased bone mass in 15 of 17 post-menopausal women participating in a study at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

This new evidence is the first substantial indication that exercise may be a treatment for low bone mass, a condition that is characteristic of osteoporosis, often referred to as "brittle bone disease."

The key to rebuilding bones throguh exercise is achieving the proper training level and then continuing to exercise, notes principal investigator Gail Dalsky, Ph.D., who published her results in the June (1989) issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Her study shows not only that women who exercise can increase bone mass in the spine, but equally important, that if they stop exercising they lose the benefits -- bone mass returns to its original levels.

"We've found that lumbar bone mineral content increased significantly after just nine months of weight-bearing exercise," says Dalsky, an exercise physiologist. "The exercise must be consistent, though -- if it's sporadic or seasonal, you're unlikely to see an increase. With continued training, you maintain bone mass, but with inactivity, you lose the training effect."

Bone mass -- the mineral content, plus the structure of bone -- gives bone strength, or resistance to fracture. A loss in bone mass weakens the bone because there are fewer minerals, and because the structure has changed.

"It's similar to a building with steel girders," Dalsky says. "The strength of the building comes from that framework -- if you take out a girder, the building is weaker, not only because there's less steel, but also because you've changed the structure."

Osteoporosis is a progressive disease, mainly affecting older women, where substantial bone loss may result in painful and crippling fractures. Physiologists have determined that, at the point of fracture, women with osteoporosis have a bone mass that is 30 percent below the average of a young, normal woman. Bone loss may begin as early as age 25. (See Nutrition Health Review, Osteoporosis, issue #35)
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Author:Bernardo, Debra
Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Mar 22, 1990
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