Many younger and middle-aged women are quick to assume that bone loss is a problem that only affects an older population. After all, osteoporosis can’t possibly be a concern in your twenties, thirties and forties, right? Think again.
“Patients don’t usually receive treatment for osteoporosis until their 60s, 70s, and older, but bone loss begins much earlier than that,” explains Lauren Baker, DO, family practice physician at the Main Line Health Center in Collegeville. “The time to start worrying about bone health and taking step towards stronger bones is now, not later.”
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, one in three women worldwide over the age of 50 will suffer a broken bone due to osteoporosis, and women over the age of 45 spend more time in the hospital because of osteoporosis than any other chronic diseases, including heart attack, breast cancer, or diabetes. With statistics like that, it’s important to start taking control of your bone health before it becomes a serious problem.
Below, Dr. Baker offers tips for maintaining muscle strength, preventing bone loss, and decreasing your risk of injuries from osteoporosis.
The benefits of exercise are numerous, but it’s especially important for building stronger bones and muscle. Women should aim to get 30 to 40 minutes of exercise three to four times per week, and incorporate strength training and weight-bearing exercises.
Another reason to quit that smoking habit? It could mean weak bones later on. Smoking increases your risk of bone loss and bone fractures. Heavy smokers are especially at risk, so the sooner you can quit, the better.
Check your bone health
For most women, bone density testing begins at age 65. But, if you have risk factors like low body weight, steroid use, smoking, a family history of bone loss or osteoporosis, or a personal history of a bone fracture, you may be eligible to begin bone density testing at a younger age. Talk to your health care provider about what’s right for you.
Eat a bone-healthy diet
Calcium and Vitamin D are two important parts of a bone-healthy diet. Look for calcium in foods like low-fat dairy products, leafy greens, soy products, and calcium-fortified cereals and orange juice. Limited exposure to sunlight is a good source of Vitamin D, but you can also find it in foods like cheese, egg yolks, or fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and mackerel. Vitamin D supplements are also available.
In addition to a bone-healthy diet, it can also be good for your bones to put happy hour on hold sometimes. Drinking more than two alcoholic drinks per day can begin to affect bone growth. So, limit your alcohol intake to just a few days per week and no more than two drinks per day. Remember: one drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, eight to nine ounces of malt liquor, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of other spirits, like gin or vodka.
Even among the most graceful individuals, falls can still occur. And, as we age, these falls can take a serious toll on our physical health, including our bones. Falls in or outside the home can result in broken or fractured bones, and a greater risk of osteoporosis.
Make simple modifications in your home to prevent falls by installing banisters and handrails on stairs, fixing areas of uneven terrain, and using motion sensor lights in your driveway and doorway. It’s especially important to treat icy or snowy sidewalks during winter, too. Inside your home, make sure you have clear pathways for walking by removing clutter and moving furniture toward the walls and out of walkways. Throw rugs and carpet runners should be removed or secured, and commonly-used items should be placed within reach to minimize the need for climbing on a step stool.
The bathroom can be a particularly dangerous area – especially when the floor or your feet are wet. Avoid locking the bathroom door and always have a way to call for help when in the bathroom. Use a non-slip mat or non-skid tape in tubs and showers. You may also want to install grab bars and purchase a shower chair or bench.
Know your risk factors
Osteoporosis can affect anyone, but certain groups are more at risk than others. Women who have gone through menopause before age 45, have rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, or celiac disease, and those who have broken bones in the past or have a family history of osteoporosis have a higher risk.
Although osteoporosis affects more women than men, millions of men over the age of 65 are still at risk. In fact, by the age of 90, one in every six men will have a hip fracture. The risk factors for osteoporosis in men are similar to those for women, but can also include:
- Hypogonadism – Low testosterone can affect bone health, but male hormone replacement therapy can sometimes help to combat this.
- Steroid use from the treatment of gastrointestinal diseases like Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
- A history of diabetes
- Hypercalciuria – A biological syndrome in which there is too much calcium in your urine.
Talk to your doctor if any of these affect you, as you may be at a higher risk for osteoporosis.
Main Line Health primary care physicians have offices in many convenient locations near the following hospitals and health centers, and other convenient outpatient settings throughout your community. Visit our website to find a Main Line Health primary care physician in your area.