Magnesium has the potential to be used as degradable metallic biomaterial. For magnesium and its alloys to be used as biodegradable implant materials, their degradation rates should be consistent with the rate of healing of the affected tissue, and the release of the degradation products should be within the body's acceptable absorption levels. Conventional magnesium degrades rapidly, which is undesirable. In this study, biodegradation behaviors of high purity magnesium and commercial purity magnesium alloy AZ31 in both static and dynamic Hank's solution are systematically investigated. The in vitro test results show that magnesium purification and selective alloying are effective approaches to reduce the degradation rate of magnesium. In the static condition, the corrosion products accumulate on the materials surface as a protective layer, which results in a lower degradation rate than the dynamic condition. Anodized coating can significantly further reduce the degradation rate of magnesium. This study strongly indicates that magnesium can be used as degradable implant material as long as the degradation is controlled at a low rate. Magnesium purification, selective alloying, and anodized coating are three effective approaches to reduce the rate of degradation. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Biomed Mater Res Part B: Appl Biomater, 2011.