Contributed by Michelle Hassler
Believe it or not, our bones are constantly growing and changing. With age, bones become weaker and less dense than they used to be. This change in bone density can result in osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease that results in brittle and fragile bones that are more susceptible to fractures. This bone disease develops when the body neglects to produce enough new bone and/or loses too much bone. So how can you tell your bones are changing? Sadly, you can’t. There are no signs of osteoporosis. The best thing you can do for your bones is know how to build them up and understand how you might be at risk for these untraceable signs of osteoporosis.
What’s My Risk?
As men and women reach mid-life, they are often left with bone growth that has significantly decreased. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about 54 million Americans have osteoporosis and low bone mass. Studies suggest that approximately one in two women and up to one in four men age 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Post-menopausal women are at a particularly high risk for osteoporosis due to the sudden decrease in estrogen associated with menopause.
Since there are no visible symptoms of bone loss or signs of osteoporosis, most people are diagnosed with osteoporosis after experiencing a fracture due to a minor fall or strain. According to the National Institute of Health, “an individual may not know that they have osteoporosis until their bones become so weak that a sudden strain, bump, or fall causes a hip to fracture or a vertebra to collapse.”
How Can I Fight Osteoporosis?
There are several steps you can take to fight osteoporosis. What is necessary for success in (pretty much) any fight? Strong bones! Trying to maintain strong, healthy bones should be a priority when it comes to your personal health. Below are a few simple ways to help prevent osteoporosis.
Stock Up on Calcium
Calcium seems to be the go-to vitamin that people associate with strong bones – and there is a reason for it. Low calcium intake over a lifetime has been linked to low bone mass, rapid bone loss, and high fracture rates. Unfortunately, as we age, our bodies become less efficient at absorbing calcium and other nutrients. In addition, when your body is not getting enough calcium, it pulls calcium from your bones! Milk, yogurt, cheese, green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, salmon, almonds are good sources of calcium. You can also buy foods that are fortified with calcium such as juices, bread, and cereals. If you are not getting enough calcium from your diet, you can also take a calcium supplement to reach your daily recommended amount.
Get Your Daily Vitamin D
Vitamin D is important in the prevention of osteoporosis because it helps with calcium absorption. Like other essential vitamins, it is absorbed through the food we eat. However, Vitamin D is also produced when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Eating egg yolks, saltwater fish, and liver are great ways to get vitamin D. Elderly individuals or people who are confined to a hospital bed may struggle to get enough Vitamin D. Incorporating foods rich in Vitamin D and taking a few minutes to enjoy the outdoors will benefit your health and also help you to develop and maintain strong bones.
Make Fitness A Priority
Weight bearing exercises can help strengthen bone tissue and maintain bone density. Weight bearing does not mean you need to rack up the weights at the gym (but if you do, that’s great too!) Any exercise that you do with your feet on the ground is considered weight bearing because it forces your bones to support your weight. You can exercise at various impacts depending on your fitness ability and general health. Some high-impact exercises are running, dancing, jumping rope, playing tennis, aerobics, and hiking. Several low impact weight-bearing exercises are walking, climbing stairs or weight lifting. You can use equipment such as weight machines if you belong to a gym or invest in elastic bands for resistance training.
If you suffer from osteoporosis, choosing low impact exercises may be a good fit for you because you are at risk of breaking a bone. Non-impact exercises such as balancing, stretching, or moving from a sitting to standing position will help you to remain active and strengthen bone tissue without placing a great amount of strain on the body. Practicing yoga can not only improve balance and reduce the risk of falls, it can help to increase bone density – particularly in the hips and spine.
Avoid Smoking and Excessive Alcohol
Smoking and alcohol consumption can lead to bone loss. Not only is smoking harmful to your heart and lungs, but it also isn’t doing any favors for your bones. Smoking can cause you to absorb less calcium from your diet. Women who smoke have lower levels of estrogen than non-smokers which is not good for bone development. Cutting back on alcohol is also beneficial to bone growth. Heavy drinkers are more prone to bone loss and fractures. The regular consumption of alcohol may be damaging to the skeleton.
Since there are no visible signs of osteoporosis, talk to your doctor if you are concerned about your individual risk factors and discuss prevention methods that are suitable for you. Your doctor may perform a bone density test to see how your bones have been growing. In the meantime, enjoy a nice big glass of milk and incorporate some of these prevention tips into your lifestyle.