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You need strong bones like your house needs a strong foundation

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One of the not-so-wonderful things that can happen to us as we age (face it, there is a long list) is brittle bones or weakening of the bones. This is called osteoporosis.

The causes can be many. Medications such as steroids can contribute to this, or genetics, or certain medical conditions. Age and race can play a factor, as can whether or not you smoke or drink. It is fairly common for older women to have osteoporosis.

There are ways to combat this disease. As women, we should not go down without a fight! Proper nutrition and weight-bearing exercises are key.

Getting protein in your diet is key. There are many ways to get protein — don’t always think meat. Animal products can have lots of dietary fat and can be full of cholesterol, so try to get as much protein as possible from plants, beans, eggs and nuts. Legumes, spinach, kale, mushrooms and broccoli are all good sources of protein.

Osteoporosis strikes mostly hips and backs, but other joints as well. Weight-bearing exercises can help keep your bones stronger. Think of strong bones like a strong foundation to your house. A weak foundation can be a disaster. In order to make your foundation strong, it is crucial to get into a weight-bearing exercise program that focuses on hips and back as well as upper-body strength.

Another good reason to get into a good exercise program is to maintain your coordination and balance, because coordination and balance can keep you from falling.

Some examples of exercises that all women should be doing are spinal extensions, hip flexion, hip abduction (taking legs away from midline of body) and hip adduction (taking legs towards midline of body). There are machines for these exercises in many workout facilities, but with a little creativity you can do these at home.

For hip flexion, try standing or sitting and lifting your leg up 90 degrees so that your knee is at hip level, then straighten the leg out, then back to 90 degrees, then back to floor. You can add resistance with a band or ankle weight, as long as you have approval from your physician.

For abduction and adduction, you can do side-lying leg lifts on a floor or a firm surface. Remember to stack your hips on top of one another, then lift the top leg. You can add weight or resistance to this as well.

For abduction, lift the top leg toward the ceiling. For adduction, bend the top leg behind the bottom leg, then lift the bottom leg toward the ceiling. All these should be done in sets of 3-4 with 10-15 reps each. Again, adding resistance over time is key. And form is key. Ask a professional to show you proper form.

For spinal extension exercise, you will need to lie face down on the floor or a firm surface, not a bed. Place your hands under your forehead and lift chest and hands off the floor. For beginners, keep feet on floor and make your lifts small to start. There are many different ways to modify this exercise, and many ways to graduate this exercise as you get stronger. Keep in mind if you are a true beginner or have had back issues, consult your doctor for advice.

Getting into a program with a trained professional may be a good way to learn all the different types of exercises that are available to you.

All weight-bearing exercises will benefit your bones. Simply walking 3-5 times a week is considered a great weight-bearing exercise.

I really recommend that anyone starting out and wanting to learn some ways to combat osteoporosis try the Silver Sneakers program at the YMCA. People of all ages and abilities participate in the program, and it is a very welcoming environment.

There are quite a few who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis and are now motivated to regularly get that weight-bearing exercise.

The benefits are tremendous. SilverSneakers will challenge your balance, help you with coordination and make you stronger as you work on upper and lower body. Depending on your health insurance, you may qualify for a FREE membership to the Y through the Silver Sneakers program.

Talk to your doctor about having a DEXA scan test to measure your bone density. Then make a plan to do the necessary work to improve or maintain your bone health.

Ann Angell is a certified instructor and personal trainer and  manager of the Oxford YMCA. Her fitness column appears the third Sunday of each month.