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Osteoporosis a Rising Concern

If the first ever Surgeon General’s report on bone health accurately predicts the future, your client landscape could look very different by 2020. That is the year, the government predicts, when half of all Americans 50 and older will be at risk for fractures from osteoporosis or low bone mass—that is, unless immediate action is taken. According to Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General, released in October 2004, 10 million Americans over the age of 50 have osteoporosis, while another 34 million are at risk for developing it. About 1.5 million people suffer a fracture related to bone disease each year. The direct care costs for osteoporotic fractures alone range from $12.2 to $17.9 billion annually, in 2002 dollars.

IDEA member and presenter Joan Pagano, owner of Joan Pagano Fitness Group and author of Strength Training for Women (Dorling Kindersley 2005), has been working with this population for several years. She believes a good first step for fitness professionals is to update the way they regard osteoporosis. “It is not a part of normal aging,” she says. “It is not only an ‘older woman’s disease.’ It’s largely preventable and treatable, especially if we reach women at an early age, when prevention is most effective. We need to clear up misconceptions, close the information gap and educate our clients so they can put into practice what researchers know about preventing osteoporosis.”

The Osteoporosis prevention report recommends bone density tests for women over 65 and for any man or woman who suffers even a minor fracture over the age of 50. It also offers the following recommendations to decrease the likelihood of developing osteoporosis:

  • Osteoporosis prevention tip #1: Get the recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D. The average adult under 50 needs about 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day and 200 International Units (IU) of vitamin D. (One cup of milk fortified with vitamin D provides 302 mg of calcium and 50 IU of vitamin D.)

  • Osteoporosis prevention tip #2: Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active at least 30 minutes a day for adults, 60 minutes a day for children. Exercise should include weight-bearing activities to improve strength and balance.

  • Osteoporosis prevention tip #3: Remove items that might cause tripping; install good lighting; and have your eyes tested regularly.

What can you do about Osteoporosis prevention as a fitness professional? Plenty, according to Pagano. “Learn the risk factors,” she says. “These include personal history of bone fracture, regardless of cause, and clinical markers of the disease (for example, more than 21⁄2 inches of height loss). This way you can spot red flags and suggest that a client speak to her physician about getting a bone density test. Learn the World Health Organization’s criteria for classifying bone mineral density, so that you understand what the numbers mean.”

Pagano stresses safety and awareness. “Learn the distinctions between exercise for Osteoporosis prevention and exercise for Osteoporosis treatment, as they incorporate very different strategies. The training methods for Osteoporosis prevention could cause injury to a client who has been diagnosed. Be on the alert for younger women who have risk factors and may not know they are at risk. Be conservative and follow safe guidelines in developing training programs and classes for this special population.”

Joy Keller

Joy Keller is executive editor of IDEA Fitness Journal and IDEA Fit Business Success, and is also a certified personal trainer, indoor cycling instructor, yoga teacher (RYT 200) and Reiki Master.

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