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Start Early to Prevent Osteoporosis

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

Even though many osteoporosis-prevention messages are targeted at
older women, grandmothers aren't the only ones who should be concerned
about this major health threat. Girls as young as pre-teens are at an
age when they can reduce future bone loss through regular, moderate
exercise.

This window of opportunity to "load our skeleton," or
increase bone mass, is brief -- starting right around puberty and
continuing through it, according to Kenneth Lyles, M.D., professor of
medicine in the division of geriatrics at Duke University Medical
Center.

"It is possible -- and there's pretty clear data -- that
weight-bearing exercise for girls as they just start going into puberty
is a very useful way to help them achieve their full skeletal
potential," says Lyles.

"We now realize that not only do you need
dense bones, but the structure of your bones is also important," he
explains. "Exercise can have a profound effect on bone strength. There
have been some very effective studies that show, if you have girls jump
off a box that's two feet high and land on both feet 100 times, three
times a week, this can have a very positive effect on bone density and
especially on bone structure."

Advertising that shows pre-teens
exercising or drinking a glass of milk can help make this age group
aware of healthy habits that can reduce their risk of developing
osteoporosis when they grow older.

"There are a number of
programs to try to convince young women to be more physically active,"
says Lyles. "I think habits should be lifelong. Trying to get someone
to do it who's never done it before is a real problem. I think people
should be encouraged to be physically active almost from the time they
can walk. And it needs to be set by families."

As for diet, Lyles
says calcium and vitamin D are key needs for osteoporosis prevention.
"Almost everyone, from childhood through the start of menopause, needs
1,000 milligrams of calcium a day," he says. "The easy way to remember
this is that the average diet with no dairy products provides between
400 and 600 milligrams of calcium. A glass of milk adds 250 milligrams;
a cup of yogurt is 200 milligrams. You want that daily intake, along
with 800 international units of vitamin D."

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