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Making no bones about exercising

health and fitness Updated: Mar 05, 2011 23:19 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
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Increasing fractures from minor falls have junked popular phrases such as “break a leg”, the popular theatrical usage for good luck. Everywhere you go, you meet people in colourful casts, explaining how they cracked their wrist while doing something innocuous such as picking up a coffee cup or waving goodbye.

Wrist and hip fractures are the fastest-growing fractures, not so much because we are getting clumsier and falling down more, but because our bones are weakening due to reasons that increase with each passing day.

Brittle-bone disease, as osteoporosis is sometimes referred to, causes more fractures of the hip, wrists and spine than hard falls or accidents, say experts. According to WHO estimates, one in two Indian women and one in three men over the age of 50 years have weak bones. Among the young, osteoporosis is the leading cause of wrist fractures.

Gonadal steroids (sex hormones) influence skeletal health throughout life in both women and men. In adolescents and young women, sustained production of oestrogens is needed for preventing bone loss, with reduction in oestrogen production with menopause accelerating bone loss with age. Delayed puberty, again related to lower sex hormones, diminishes bone mass in men.

The bone mass gained in your teens determines your life-long skeletal health, with people with the strongest bones at adolescence suffering the least when smoking, medication, illness and diminished sex-hormone production with age take their toll. Smoking is other factor that lowers bone health in more ways than one. People who smoke have weaker bones, have fractures that take longer to heal and have higher bone loss with age.

On Friday, weak bones were added to the long list of things that threaten to substantially shorten the life of people who are overweight. The Journal of Pediatrics reports that 14-18 year olds who are overweight have low bone mass along with low levels of heart-protecting good cholesterol (high density lipoprotein or HDL), and insulin resistance, which is an early indicator of developing diabetes.

In the study, two in three overweight teens had at least one of more risk factor for heart disease and diabetes, mostly because they were not getting the recommended 60-plus minutes of daily exercise, defined as activity that increases the heart rate high enough to cause heavy breathing, such as running or playing football or tennis.

Bone tissue accumulated between 11 and 13 years roughly equals the amount of bone lost during the 30 years following menopause, with one study showing that physically active teens gain as much as 40% more bone mass than the least active teens of the same age.

More as much as the milk and dairy products, you need weight-bearing activity and sunlight for strong bones, reported the journal Pediatrics last year. While the vitamin D in sunlight helps in calcium absorption, weight-bearing exercises apply tension to muscle and bone and, in young people, encourages the body to compensate for the added stress by increasing bone density by as much as 2 % to 8% in a year. In pre-menopausal and menopausal women, it preserves bone and lowers age-related bone loss.

Exercise and physical activity prompts bones to release a hormone called osteocalcin, which helps decrease fat-related risk factors, such as insulin resistance, and raises heart-protective good cholesterol levels. It also causes bone-producing cells called osteoblasts to multiply, making them denser and less prone to breakages.

Simply put, the more you move around, the less likely you are to fall and break your bones.