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Ester Marsh: Some water exercises can help bone density

Does water exercise help bone density?

I was asked this question last week and thought it was a great article to share with Salisbury Post’s readers.

Lets first look what bone density is. Bone density is testing that is used to find out the strength of the bones and the probability of fracture in a person at risk for osteoporosis. The test is also called Bone Mineral Density (BMD); it’s a scan which is an easy and noninvasive procedure that takes only minutes to carry out. This test will give you two numbers, the T-score and the Z-score.

The T-score is where your bone density is compared  to normal healthy young adults of your gender.

The T-score is a number of units your bone density is above or below average.

A score of -1 and up is considered normal. -1 to -2.5 is called osteopenia, where your bone density is below normal and can lead to osteoporosis. With -2.5 and below you most likely have osteoporosis.

The Z-score is the number which is above or below what is expected for someone who is your age, gender, weight, ethnic or racial background. Osteoporosis is a medical condition where the bones become brittle and fragile from loss of tissue. This typically happens when hormonal changes take place or when there is a deficiency in calcium or Vitamin D. Osteopenia is reduced bone mass which is less severe than osteoporosis.

With the knowledge out there and the medication available, I have seen people with osteopenia and osteoporosis reverse the effects of brittle bones. As it is with everything, it takes effort on your part to reverse —  but preferably prevent — your bone mass loss. Doing research on water exercise I was getting both ends of the spectrum. YES, water exercise CAN make your bones strong; NO, the buoyancy will not make your bones stronger. I believe it’s all about what you do in the water, and second, I believe in an overall workout program where there is dry land involved.

When you read about preventing osteoporosis it tells you to do “weight bearing” exercises. Walking, hiking, dancing etc. The bone will strengthen when the tendons — the part that attaches all muscles to the bones — are challenged. Weightlifting would be a great exercise to add to your workout program where each muscle is challenged, tendons “pulling” on the bone while working out. However, some research shows that with pool workouts where you use “weights”/ resistance (foam dumbbells-water gloves-paddles etc.)  your tendons also will be challenging the bones to get stronger, especially when you do this in waist- deep water.

If you are not sure if your bones are up to par please check with your doctor to get a bone density test done. If you find out you have osteopenia or osteoporosis, don’t panic! Your doctor will put you most likely on some medicine such as Fosamax or just calcium and a vitamin D supplement. Come see me at the Y and I will be more than happy to help you set up a program that will help increase your bone density. I prefer to use different workouts as in adding land exercise besides water exercise but if water is the only area you can do your exercise we will make sure you challenge those muscles to strengthen those bones!

So don’t wait to see if you are at risk; check with your doctor to find out. And as with all other things, you have to move your body and challenge your muscles to be the best you can be!

Ester H. Marsh is associate executive director of the JF Hurley family YMCA.

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