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Keeping Your Bones Healthy: Are You Working Out Right?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


When your doctor tells you to get good exercise to help maintain bone health, what's that really mean?  Does everything count?  And is there such a thing as too much of a good thing?

In a way, says Geetha Gopalakrishnan, MD, director of the Bone Health Program at Women and Infants Hospital.  "Let's be clear," Gopalakrishnan says.  "Exercise at any age maintains or improves bone. Exercise is a good thing."

However, she adds, while activities like swimming and biking are good for endurance and cardiovascular protection, they don't have the same effect on your bones as weight-bearing exercise.  Not sure what's weight bearing? "Anything against gravity," she says. From running and walking to any game requiring movement (especially jumping), to gardening and housework, to climbing stairs regularly, these are the kinds of movements that load bones with the forces that promote growth. 

Resistance training, Gopalakrishnan adds, is great for both building bone and building muscle and is also another hedge against falls and fractures in later years.  And this isn't about hard-core pumping iron: "More repetition, lower weights," she counsels. 

But she offers a cautionary note: for younger women, particularly adolescents, too much exercise can in fact undo the good.  "When girls exercise too much, they become amenorrheic (lacking menstruation), and amenorrheic girls (are) at greater risk for bone loss," she says.  For many health reasons, young female athletes need to exercise at a level that is not intense enough to inhibit menstruation.

Finally, she says, just because a kid is out there playing soccer and lacrosse, this doesn't mean they don't need their calcium and Vitamin D.  One aspect of bone health promotion doesn't count for both.  "No slacking if you're a good athlete," Gopalakrishnan says, laughing.


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