One small step is just the beginning
by Smitha R. Chadaga MD
After taking my kids to the astronaut exhibit at the science museum they were full of questions. One of which was “why do astronauts have to do exercise in space?”. And the movie WALL-E came to my rescue to help them understand that in micro gravity bones can get weak and thin and that exercise can help counter act these changes.
And then they asked me – can that happen to us? Yes it can. On earth and in space it is called osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a disease process where bones get weak and thin, and are prone to breaking. There are many risk factors for osteoporosis. Some you just have to deal with: female gender, older age, women of Caucasian and Asian descent, family history of osteoporosis, and personal history of fracture. Some risk factors you can change if you choose: poor diet (low in calcium and vitamin D), low physical activity, smoking, and certain medications (including steroids).
If you are at risk for osteoporosis there are steps you can take to prevent it. You can improve calcium and vitamin D intake. Care has to be taken to get the right amount of calcium (around 1000 milligrams of calcium a day depending on your physical make up) in your diet as too much calcium can cause medical problems. You can also increase your physical activity. The best results are achieved when combining strength and weight bearing exercises. If you progress to the diagnosis of osteoporosis, calcium intake and exercise can help prevent further loss. If that is not enough, there are medications your doctor can prescribe to help treat the disease.
So before you sign up to be a space tourist make sure your bones are in good shape.