You may think that bones are stiff and dry, but they are made of flexible
living tissue that is constantly changing. Taking care of your bones now
will prevent lots of problems –including osteoporosis – in
“Osteoporosis is a condition of weakened and brittle bone that results
from too little bone being made, too much being lost, or a combination
of both,” says
Monica Ferguson, MD, an internal medicine physician with
Annadel Medical Group in Santa Rosa.
Osteoporosis poses significant health risks because weak and brittle bones
can break easily. “Fractures are a particularly serious problem
for older people,” Dr. Ferguson says. “Even after a fracture
has healed, it can be painful for a long time and it often ends up limiting
mobility, leading to a loss of independence.” Dr. Ferguson adds
that a bone does not have to be broken to be fractured. “Osteoporosis
can result in partial fractures of the spine that make you appear shorter
and affect your posture. This is what you see in older people who have
difficulty straightening their back and walking at their full height.”
Women are more likely to get osteoporosis than men, but men get it too.
The risk that a woman will fracture her hip due to osteoporosis is the
same as her risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and uterine cancer
combined. And, if you are a man 50 or older, your risk of fracture because
of osteoporosis is higher than your risk of prostate cancer.
The more bone mass you retain when you are younger, the lower your chances
are of breaking a bone or developing osteoporosis when you are older.
Dr. Ferguson says it’s particularly important for women to build
up their bone density before menopause; in the five to seven years after
menopause, women can lose up to 20 percent of their bone density.
“Whatever your age,” says Dr. Ferguson “increasing your
bone density can be as simple as C-D-E.”
Dr. Ferguson’s bone-saving tips:
C – Calcium. Calcium is the building block of strong bones, so a diet with sufficient
calcium intake is essential. “Almost all of your body’s calcium
is stored in your bones and if you don’t eat enough calcium, your
body will take it from the bones and deliver to other parts that need
it, like the heart, muscles, and nervous system,” Dr. Ferguson says.
Dairy is a well-known source of dietary calcium, but there are other choices:
dark green vegetables like kale, collard greens and bok choy; canned sardines
or salmon, with bones; and fortified foods such as orange juice, almond
milk, tofu, and cereals.
D – Vitamin D. Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and maintain the skeleton.
The primary source of vitamin D is sunshine. This can present problems
for people who are housebound, who live in geographic regions that do
not get a lot of sunlight, or who live in sunny climates but regularly
use sunscreen (as they should) to protect their skin from ultraviolet
radiation. There are a few foods that contain vitamin D, including fortified
milk and fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, and tuna, but most people
will not get sufficient vitamin D from food alone. Dr. Ferguson says,
“People with low levels of vitamin D should consider taking a supplement.
Ask your doctor for advice on the appropriate dose.”
E – Exercise. Regular exercise improves bone density and reduces bone loss. The types
of exercise that Dr. Ferguson recommends for the bones are weight-bearing
exercise, strength training, and balance exercise. Weight-bearing exercises
are done while you are on your feet so that you support your own weight.
Good options include walking, hiking, tennis or aerobics. Strength training
involves short, intensive bursts of exercise like lifting weights or pushing
against resistance bands. They’re good for the bones in your arms
and upper spine. Balance exercise doesn’t directly strengthen your
bones, but will help keep you from falling and includes activities such
as heel-to-toe walking and tai chi.
“If you are lacking in the CDEs, ask your doctor about getting a
bone density test and find out if it’s covered by your insurance,”
Dr. Ferguson says. “This test will tell you if you have osteoporosis
and will help your doctor make recommendations to protect your bones.”
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.