Isabel Mills, 86, received the diagnosis of full-blown osteoporosis from her doctor five years ago.

One of Mills' friends told her about the Project Healthy Bones exercise program held Tuesday and Thursday mornings at the senior center in North Wildwood. Mills spoke to her doctor about it and received approval to participate. Mills doesn't miss a session.

"Cape May County de-serves credit. They really take care of their seniors," said Mills. "I love the program."

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Osteoporosis is a progressive bone disease. It is characterized by a reduction in bone mass and density, which can lead to a heightened risk of fracture. Bone density is the main issue to worry about. Researchers estimate one in three women and one in five men worldwide will sustain a fracture because of osteoporosis, and the number of broken hips is expected to skyrocket as the population ages. Besides exercise, other crucial factors for bone health include the intake of calcium and vitamin D and regular bone-health screenings for older patients.

Project Healthy Bones, also available at the Lower Township Senior Center and other facilities, is an osteoporosis exercise and education program for older adults with or at risk for osteoporosis. The peer-led program includes exercises that target the body's larger muscle groups to improve balance, flexibility, posture and strength.

Mills uses wrist and ankle weights while participating in the healthy bones program.

She has been attending the healthy bones program for so long that she has the exercises memorized. Mills demonstrated a series of them including: tilting the head back, so that the eyes are looking up at the ceiling; raising and swinging the arms over the head; swinging the arms from side to side; hugging yourself over the shoulder with one hand while using the other hand to push on your elbow; and recreating the motions that would be involved with pushing a window up.

Mills injected herself with FORTEO, an osteoporosis medication, every day for two years.

Dr. Lisa Vernon, an ob/gyn at Southern Ocean Medical Center in the Manahawkin section of Stafford Township, said the bone mineral density test called dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, also known as a DXA scan, is recommended for women age 65 and older. The DXA scan is preferred over the nuclear bone scan.

"Some women may require earlier testing because of family history, thyroid medication or the use of steroids," Vernon said.

Natacha Falcon, a non-surgical spine specialist with the Rothman Institute at AtlantiCare, said the key with exercising for bone health is that it must be a weight-bearing exercise. Swimming and bicycling don't count. If a person doesn't want to work with weights, they can walk or jog.

Dr. Anila Amin, of AtlantiCare Primary Care Plus in Linwood, said negative factors that people should avoid are the consumption of alcohol in great amounts and smoking. It is recommended older people consume 1,200 milligrams of calcium with vitamin D daily. People also can receive their recommended daily amount of calcium by consuming dairy products, such as milk or cheese, but Amin suggested the low-fat versions. Sometimes, calcium with magnesium can be helpful, Amin said.

Vernon, who doesn't treat men, said men can come down with osteoporosis, but they typically see it at later ages, such as 70 and older, as compared to women, who are at increased risk when they hit menopause at age 50.

A focus on bone health comes as this country is facing a rapidly aging baby-boomer population and dealing with the consequences of people developing osteoporosis.

About half of the women who fracture their hip as a result of having osteoporosis, lose their ability to live independently, Vernon said. For hip fractures, the mortality rate for one year ranges between one-third and a half, Vernon said. If they live, rehabilitation awaits them, and they can find themselves with mobility restrictions, Vernon said.

The start of osteoporosis can be seen with subtle changes in the spine that results in a reduction of height, which is known as the dowager hump, Vernon said.

Adele Hunter, 87, has been coming to senior center in North Wildwood for the past five years. Hunter participated in the healthy bones program the entire time. Hunter said her doctor asks her if she is continuing with her exercise. Hunter has a heart condition, and the exercises also help with her breathing. Hunter has broken her wrist in the past, but the program's exercises also help her with her balance.

"It makes you feel good," said Hunter, of Wildwood Crest. "I highly recommend it."

Information from MCT was used in this report.

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