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New Study Highlights the Importance of Exercise in Maintaining Bone Health

Scientists from the University of Exeter reported this month results of a study indicating women who underwent brief bursts of high-intensity, weight-bearing activity equivalent to a medium-paced run for pre-menopausal women, or a slow jog for post-menopausal women, had better bone health.

“As an orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in total spine care, I understand the importance exercise can play on improving bone health. Although it is a known fact that weight-bearing exercise and physical activity can slow bone loss, even in older people, it is my hope that younger people will begin to optimize bone health at an earlier stage in life,” says Santa Rosa Orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Chrisitian Athanassious.

The Fact on Bone Health

According to the American Academy of Orthpaedic Surgeons, being active and following a regular exercise program are important aspects to maintaining healthy bones. Weight-bearing exercise is especially important for maintaining bone strength and preventing osteoporosis. As an added advantage, by maintaining muscle mass exercise also preserves and strengthens surrounding bone and helps prevent falls.

For this study, researchers compiled data on more than 2,500 women, and compared activity levels (measured by wrist-worn monitors) with bone health (measured by an ultrasound scan of heel bone). As well as finding an average of four percent better bone health among women who did one to two minutes of high-intensity, weight-bearing exercise, they found six percent better bone health among those who did more than two minutes a day.

Fracture is Just One Consequence of Weak Bones

By 2020, it is estimated that half of all Americans over age 50 will experience weak bones, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). These outcomes can be improved by making changes to diet and lifestyle, and preventing bone loss in people who are most at risk. When a fracture happens the level of severity of an injury usually depends on where it is located and the damage sustained by bone and tissue surrounding the fracture. Obviously, serious fractures can have dangerous complications if not treated promptly with attention put on damaged blood vessels or nerves and resultant infection of the bone (osteomyelitis) or tissue surrounding the injury.

Prevention is Key to Improving Bone Health

Making lifestyle changes that include optimal nutrition and weight bearing exercise can also help to prevent fall-related fractures, which can have a major impact not just on the health of patients, but the healthcare expense. Every year, fragility fractures cost Americans an estimated $18 billion, with that number expected to double or triple in coming decades, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Nutritional supplements and a healthy diet that includes rich sources of calcium and vitamin D, drinking less than three alcoholic beverages per day and refraining from cigarette smoking can all help keep bones healthy.

Dr. Athanassious says orthopedic surgeons typically also recommend exercises to strengthen the back including; speed walking, swimming, or stationary bike riding. These types of exercise are known to help increase muscle strength and flexibility. Yoga can also help stretch and strengthen muscles and improve posture.

“This study suggests that weight bearing exercise is a key factor to long term bone health. By weight-bearing we are describing any activity that can be done on your feet that works bones and muscles against the effect of gravity,” Dr. Athanassious explains. “Regular weight-bearing exercises can be as simple as brisk walking, jogging, or even participating in team sports. All of these activities work to activate the body's bone-forming cells and helps bones become stronger.”

About Santa Rosa Orthopaedics Total Spine Health Program

The Total Spine Health Program at Santa Rosa Orthopaedics is directed by Dr. Christian Athanassious. Many patients arrive at the Total Spine Health Program with conditions that may never require surgery. With appropriate diagnosis, the SRO team is often able to provide effective non-surgical treatment but when conservative care is not enough, surgery may be indicated. SRO physical therapists work closely with the surgeons to provide post-operative protocols designed to safely guide patients through the rehabilitation process. To learn more, visit the SRO website or call 707.546.1922.

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