I recall looking through a large batch of photos a colleague at work had taken during a visit to China. Amongst the photos of imperial palaces and glorious temples there were also many photos of ordinary people going about their daily routines. One series of photos captured a small group of elderly women setting up for a game of Mahjong in a city square.
The women were organizing chairs and the game boards along with setting up tea and snacks. In one photo I noticed a woman who was severely hunched over with her upper back exhibiting signs of the classic “Dowager’s Hump”. It was evident that she was suffering from an advanced case of osteoporosis.
This is an extreme example of osteoporosis, but even less extreme cases can have severe consequences. The most common problem is bone factures of the spine, hip, and wrist. Osteoporosis literally means “porous bones”. As a result, bones become less dense and more prone to fractures.
Osteoporosis is known as a silent disease since it can be present for years before symptoms such as fractures become apparent. Once fractures occur, the effects can range from loss of height, disability, and sometimes, even death.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation of the 10 million Americans who have osteoporosis, 80% are women, but men are afflicted as well. Heredity and ethnicity are also determining factors with whites and Asians more susceptible than blacks or Hispanics. However, no group is immune to osteoporosis.
Prevention of osteoporosis ideally needs to begin in childhood and continue throughout one’s life. Children should receive adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D and also be physically active. Ninety percent of our bone mass is acquired by the age of 20.
It should go without saying, but in addition to causing heart and lung disease, smoking should be avoided since it is a risk factor for osteoporosis. Anorexia and bulimia are also known to place women at greater risk for osteoporosis.
For adults, one of the most important things they can do to prevent osteoporosis is to engage in regular weight-bearing exercise. Weight-bearing exercise is any activity where your full body weight is supported by your legs, hips, and spine. Walking, running, and skiing are examples of weight-bearing activities. Cycling, rowing, and swimming, though great cardio-vascular conditioning activities are not weight-bearing.
One of the drawbacks of running is the pounding your knees, hips, and ankles must endure. An activity that’s easy on your joints yet still weight-bearing is elliptical training. An elliptical trainer is a low impact fitness machine that can help stimulate bone cell growth while also helping you to burn fat and improve your cardio-vascular conditioning.
An elliptical trainer can be your secret weapon in the fight against osteoporosis.