What is osteoporosis? Many people believe osteoporosis is simply something you’re stuck with as you age, but is that really the case? In this article, we explore the definition of osteoporosis, what risk factors contribute to it, and whether or not you can take steps to prevent osteoporosis and bone loss.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about 54 million people in the United States have osteoporosis or are at risk of the disease. Unfortunately, "...about one in two women and up to one in four men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis."
Osteoporosis is a weakening of the bones due to bone loss. This increases the risk of bone fracture, particularly after a fall; however, it's even possible to experience what's called a spontaneous fracture, where you're not even sure what you might have done to cause the bone to break.
Although osteoporosis is more common in older adults, especially older women, there are steps you can take to build bone mass and prevent bone loss, making it possible to to age with healthy bones and avoid this disease.
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
There are several factors, some of which are in your control and others that are not, that may make it more likely for you to develop osteoporosis.
- Age: Older adults are more susceptible to the disease, though it can show up in younger people, too. As a woman, being past menopause puts you at greater risk of osteoporosis.
- Sex: Women are more likely than men to develop osteoporosis.
- Genetics: A family history of the disease may put you at greater risk.
- Eating Disorders: When you don't get proper nutrition, bones weaken. Even if you are older, if you had an eating disorder as a teenager, you may be at greater risk for osteoporosis.
- Poor Diet: A lack of calcium and vitamin D can cause bones to weaken.
- Lack of Physical Activity: Weight-bearing exercise, like walking or dancing, helps build bone density.
- Smoking: Smokers are at greater risk for osteoporosis than non-smokers.
- Alcohol: Bone loss is one of many issues that can be caused by excessive alcohol consumption over the long-term.
- Certain Health Conditions and Medications: Some diseases and medications can weaken your bones.
Prevention of Osteoporosis and Bone Loss
Preventing osteoporosis begins in childhood with adequate nutrition (including calcium and vitamin D) and exercise while we're growing. Generally, our bones are at their peak mass around age 30. By age 40, we start to gradually lose bone density; however, we can keep that loss to a minimum with a few healthy habits.
- Diet: No matter your age, make sure you're consuming enough calories to sustain your body along with the recommended amount of calcium and vitamin D. Ask your doctor about recommendations that are right for you, but in general, between the ages of 30 and 50, you'll want 1,000 mg of calcium and 1,000 IU of vitamin D every day. After age 50, men can continue with those recommendations, while women will want to take 1,200 mg of calcium. Over age 70, both men and women should take 1,200 mg of calcium, while the recommended amount of vitamin D drops to 800 IU. If you don't like milk, don't worry: leafy greens are also rich in calcium, and your doctor may recommend a supplement.
- Exercise: "Like muscle, bone is living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger." It's important to continue doing weight-bearing activities like walking, yoga, dancing, playing tennis or racquetball, and weight training to strengthen your bones. Among the other many benefits of exercise is that you will also improve your balance and muscular strength, which can help prevent falls in the first place. If you already have osteoporosis or low bone density, you can still benefit from exercise. Talk to your doctor about what type of fitness program would be appropriate for you.
- Stop Smoking and Drinking: It can be difficult to break these habits; seek help if you need to. Your health will benefit in many ways.
Talk to Your Doctor About Osteoporosis
You and your doctor will discuss your osteoporosis risk factors. You might undergo a bone density test if you're over age 65, or if you're younger with several risk factors. This test is painless and uses a low level of radiation.
You might be advised to make changes to your lifestyle, such as incorporating weight-bearing exercise if you haven't already. If you have osteoporosis, there are several different medications and treatments your doctor might recommend.
Preventing Osteoporosis: Start Now!
Prevention starts today! Consult your doctor to see about changes to your diet and exercise program, and do what you can to maintain your bone health for life.