Osteoporosis affects many people, but women are especially susceptible. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, approximately half of women over 50 will have a broken bone due to osteoporosis.
Bone tissue is continually breaking down and rebuilding. As we age, the tissue begins to break down more quickly than rebuilding can occur, leaving bones less dense. Osteoporosis occurs when rebuilding has slowed so much that the bones become thin, brittle and prone to fractures.
“A woman’s bones rebuild quickly and grow in density until about age 35, and then they slowly become less dense until menopause. At that point you begin to lose bone mass much more quickly,” said Sally Mangum, DO, a resident physician at Albany Internal Medicine Resident Clinic. “Every woman over the age of 35 should be thinking about her bones and how to keep them strong.”
Bone health doesn’t have to be one more item on your to-do list — you’ll notice that most of what Dr. Mangum suggests overlaps with other healthy habits that already may be part of your life.
Exercise 30 Minutes a Day
Incorporate a combination of high impact exercise and muscle strengthening exercise into your weekly routine. High impact exercises include jogging, stair climbing, tennis and aerobics — anything that gets your feet stomping. Your bones respond to this by creating stronger, denser cells. If you find high impact activities are hard on your joints, low impact activities like the elliptical machine and walking are other good choices. Muscle strengthening exercises include lifting weights, exercises using resistance bands or your own body weight, yoga and Tai Chi.
Eat a Diet High in Calcium
You need calcium, and if there isn’t enough in your diet your body will “steal” it from your bones. Calcium is found naturally in dairy products, broccoli, kale, bok choy, salmon, beans, soy foods, figs, oranges, sardines and in fortified foods. Aim for 1,200 mg a day of calcium from food, or talk to you doctor about whether you need a nutritional supplement.
Get Enough Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium. It’s readily available in sunshine but living in Oregon you might not be getting enough, especially during the winter months. Dr. Mangum recommends a supplement for most women after menopause of 1,000 to 2,000 IU a day. The U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International and Consumerlab.com all independently evaluate supplements, so check the bottle for a seal from one of those companies to ensure you’re buying a quality supplement.
Eat Leafy Greens
Vitamin K, present in leafy greens, is also associated with higher bone density and a reduced risk of hip fractures, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Eat at least one serving a day of lettuce, kale, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts or other leafy green vegetables.
If You Smoke, Quit
A lifelong habit is hard to break, so don’t try it alone. Talk to your doctor for help. Research published by the American Public Health Association found that quitting smoking later in life can stop the loss of bone density associated with smoking.
Limit Alcohol to Less than Three Drinks a Day
Chronic, heavy alcohol use is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis, so keep consumption moderate.
Talk to Your Doctor About Medication
For severe bone thinning, prescription medications are available that can slow or stop bone loss, build new bone, increase bone density and help reduce fracture risk.
You can’t completely stop bone loss associated with aging, but you can slow the progression and reduce your risk of osteoporosis. According to Dr. Mangum, bone density screening is essential for women starting at age 65.
For your initial screening your doctor may use an in-office device called quantitative ultrasound, which uses high frequency sound waves to measure your bone density. You may also be referred to an imaging center for a low-radiation X-ray called a DEXA scan (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry).
“Testing is easy and non-invasive, and it gives us a good picture of how healthy your bones are,” Dr. Mangum said. “It’s much easier to manage thinning bones and prevent osteoporosis than it is to heal from a hip fracture.”
If you have concerns about osteoporosis, please talk with your primary care provider.