Stronger Bones

Fifty-five percent of people ages 50 or older have low bone mass, which puts them at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis and related fractures. A new study shows that even after menopause, women who exercise can slow the bone loss that leads to osteoporosis. But it has to be the right kind of exercise.

All of these women are over 50. Some, like Barbara Black, are over 80.

"When I first started, I thought, 'Well, I'm getting older, it's OK if I have to heave myself out of a chair,'" says Black, who is 82.

Black and her husband raised four children. They hiked, skied, and rode horses. A test showed all that activity wasn't enough to keep her bones strong. She says, "It showed that I had the beginnings of osteoporosis."

Black joined a study and started an exercise program. She lunged, squatted, and stepped with a weighted vest three times a week. After five years, she increased her bone density by 15 percent and reversed her osteoporosis.

Stronger BonesChristine Snow, Ph.D., the director of the Bone Research Laboratory at Oregon State University in Corvallis, says: "Most of us don't bend very deeply and also don't add extra weight. That's what really pushes bones and muscles to respond."

Women in the study who didn't attend class actually lost bone at the hip. The exercisers gained bone mass, and lowered their risk of fracture by up to 20 percent.

"It's the same as a bridge that has really heavy cement vs. a bridge made out of light wood," says Snow.

Stronger BonesBlack gets up now without using her arms, and, at 82, tests show her bones are even stronger than they used to be.

The exercise program, designed by Snow and her colleagues at Oregon State University, also reduced the risk of falls by increasing leg power and strength and improving balance.