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Health & Exercise Forum

Osteoporosis is a Disease of the Young

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Jan 30, 2012

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumDoes anyone in your immediate family resemble the the hunchback of Notre Dame? If so, you too, could be in jeopardy of developing osteoporosis when you get older!

While genetics can play an important role, recent studies strongly suggest that healthy habits as a young person are extremely important for the prevention of osteoporosis as an older adult.

So, girls, log off Facebook, put down the iPhone, and forget about your boyfriend! We have to discuss your bank account.  I am not talking money, but I am talking bone!  Most women consider osteoporosis as the bone destroying disease that plagued their grandmothers.  Actually, researchers consider osteoporosis as a classic childhood disease that doesn’t show up until later in life.

Throughout life, your body constantly makes new bone and destroys old bone.  Bone formation begins in childhood, peaks during adolescence (11-15 years old), and rapidly declines after 16 to 18 years of life. Since women accumulate almost half of their adult bone mass during adolescence, you must maximize deposits into your bone bank during this window of opportunity.  The bigger your bone bank account, the longer it will last into your retirement years.

An INCREASE in WEIGHT during ADOLESCENCE is NORMAL and it occurs with the onset of your menstrual cycle.  Increases in body weight and body fat in healthy, female adolescents allows their bodies to make hormones that are needed for bone health and development.  Some girls feel embarrassed about these changes in their bodies that occur during puberty and may start a “diet” or “over-exercise” to prevent the weight gain.  Some female athletes believe that staying lighter and leaner will improve their performance.

However, fooling with Mother Nature is not healthy and can have long term consequences.  Current research on adolescent, female runners has shown that girls with low bone mass were shorter, lighter, leaner, and began menstruating at a later age.  Researchers studied these same girls three years later and discovered that they had failed to increase their bone mass to normal levels for their age.  Since these girls neglected to make enough deposits into their bone bank, they have increased their risk for developing osteoporosis later in life.

So girls, for strong, healthy bones, follow these ten simple rules:

  1. Start before puberty with appropriate exercise and healthy eating.
  2. Maintain a normal weight and promote muscle growth with sports and exercise.
  3. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and vegetable protein.
  4. Ensure the recommended intake of protein, especially vegans and vegetarians.
  5. Eat calcium, vitamin D and K rich foods and avoid carbonated drinks, especially cola drinks.
  6. Get appropriate sun exposure to allow the body to make vitamin D.
  7. Supplement to get adequate calcium and vitamin D if necessary.
  8. Exercise for bone health with dynamic exercises including weight lifting (i.e. weighted lunges, steps, jump squats, clap push-ups, overhead push-presses, pump classes), plyometrics (i.e. bounds, box marches, skips, hops, step classes), running, jogging, fats walking, jumping, basketball, and volleyball.
  9. Avoid very low-calorie dieting, tobacco products, excessive consumption of alcohol, and always include exercise in weight loss plans.
  10. Under-eating and weight loss, excessive exercising, and cessation of monthly periods are a cluster of warning signs for bone loss in active women.

A girl’s BODY WEIGHT is the LARGEST, SINGLE FACTOR influencing the health,

growth, and development of her bones.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a 16 year old girl who is 5 feet, 5 inches tall and who weighs 125 pounds has a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 20.8 which puts her in the 54th percentile.  For a healthy weight, the CDC recommends that girls should maintain their BMI between the 5th and 85th percentile.  The CDC considers BMIs below the 5th percentile as underweight and BMIs above the 85th percentile as overweight/obese.  If this sixteen year old girl weighed 100 pounds, the CDC would place her BMI in the 4th percentile and consider her underweight.  If this sixteen year old girl weighed 150 pounds, the CDC would place her BMI in the 86th percentile and consider her as overweight.  To calculate your BMI go to

If you are a teenage girl with low body weight participating in an endurance sport and you noticed that your menstrual cycles have been irregular or absent, you may be robbing your bone bank.  Use the link above to calculate your BMI.  If your BMI is below the 5th percentile, tell your parents and consult with your pediatrician.

Sources: Medical Science of Sport and Exercise and The Journal of American Academy of Nurse Practitioners

Guest Columnist, Janet Caputo, PT, DPT, OCS specializes in orthopedic and neurological rehabilitation as clinic director at Mackarey & Mackarey Physical Therapy Consultants, LLC.

Read “Health & Exercise Forum” – Every Monday in The Scranton Times-Tribune. This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor  in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate clinical professor of medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.