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Question: How much calcium should a woman take each day to prevent osteoporosis? My mother has had a certain serious problem with this condition and I would like to avoid having the same problem if possible. Thank you.

Answer: According to a report I heard at last week's American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting, osteoporosis is indeed a major problem in the United States. This disease affects more than 25 million Americans, causes an estimated 1.5 million fractures and costs the health-care system more than $100 billion a year.

Recent nutrition surveys show that the average American diet contains too little calcium to maintain proper bone mass. Without proper levels of calcium, children enter adulthood with weaker bones, which leads to an increased risk of osteoporosis in later life. In addition, too little calcium in the diet of adults aggravates the problem and allows for bone loss because of the decrease in estrogen.

Because of these problems, the National Institutes of Health have increased the recommended levels of calcium to the following levels: Children and young adults (11 through 24 years): 1200 to 1500 milligrams. Women age 25 to 50 and men over 25: 1000 mg. Postmenopausal women: 1000 to 1500 mg. Women over age 65: 1500 mg.

The report recommended an increase in low-fat dairy products and green leafy vegetables but recognized that most Americans may need a supplement to reach the new goals.

Equipment update

1. I have continued to exercise twice a week on the Health Rider machine. It is still quiet and shows no sign of wear. There are two ways to set the arm lever for an aerobic workout: The front position works both the arms and the legs equally; the back position emphasizes the legs. I like the workout that emphasizes the legs best and can easily get my heart rate into the training zone.

When I did an evaluation of rowing machines several years ago, some of my physical therapist friends were concerned about the wear and tear associated with an exercise that requires the vertebra in the lower back to flex over and over again. They were afraid that constant, long-term lower back flexion could cause lower back problems later in life. Because of the concern with rowing machines, I had several therapists help me evaluate exercise on the Health Rider. Although there didn't seem to be as much lower back flexion on the Health Rider, they all recommended holding the lower back fairly flat and allowing the flexion to occur in the hips.

2. Because of the number of questions I have been asked about cross-country ski machines, I have asked the NordicTrack company for a demo machine and will report on my experience with it later in the summer.