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Vigorous Exercise May
Slow Women's Bone Loss


Women who run, jump and pump iron after menopause may ward off bone loss, back pain and high cholesterol, a recent study released suggests.

Researchers in Germany found that a supervised exercise program that included running, aerobics, jumping and strength training helped prevent bone loss among postmenopausal women over a two-year period.

Compared with non-exercisers, women in the program reported less back pain and had lower cholesterol levels, according to findings published in the May 24th issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

The study's lead author, Dr. Wolfgang Kemmler of the University of Erlangen, pointed out that the study focused on women who had recently gone through menopause, a time when bone loss accelerates and heart disease risk rises due to declining estrogen levels.

Experts know exercise can cut the risk of both cardiovascular disease and the brittle-bone disease osteoporosis, but different types and intensities of activity may be necessary. While moderate exercise like walking can be enough to improve fitness and general health, it may take higher-impact activity that puts some stress on the bones to make a difference in bone density.

Kemmler told Reuters Health his team's exercise plan had a "multiple-purpose strategy" aimed primarily at preventing bone loss, and also boosting cardiovascular fitness and quality of life.

The study included 50 women between the ages of 48 and 60 who took part in the exercise program, and 33 women the same age who were told to follow their usual lifestyle habits. All of the women were showing some bone-density decline in the spine or hip, and all were given calcium and vitamin D to help slow their bone loss.

Women in the exercise group went through a supervised program that grew in intensity over time and eventually got them running, performing jumping exercises and strength training with weights, machines and other equipment. They exercised four times a week, with half the time spent in group classes, the other half at home.

After two years, Kemmler's team found that the exercisers showed improved endurance and strength, while their bone density remained largely stable, and even increased in the spine. In contrast, women in the comparison group remained at the same level of fitness and showed further bone loss.

In addition, women in the exercise group saw a dip in blood fats, including total cholesterol and triglycerides, while these levels tended to go up in the comparison group. Back-pain complaints also declined in the exercise group.

This latter finding, Kemmler and his colleagues note, shows that, despite the fact that high-impact exercise carries a risk of causing low-back pain, a "carefully increased exercise regimen" can actually help ease the problem.

Kemmler stressed the importance of progressing toward intense exercise such as jumping. "During the first months of our study the exercise regime was increased slowly," he said, noting that high-impact activities did not begin until the fifth month to reduce the risk of injury.

He advised that postmenopausal women who want to ramp up their activity levels should first consult their doctors, then take part in supervised programs or classes.

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, May 24, 2004.


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