Did you know eight million U.S. women over 50 suffer from osteoporosis? It is called a “silent disease” because those who develop it may not notice any changes until a bone breaks, but in most cases, it can be preventable.
According to the Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation, as much as 20% of bone loss occurs within your first five years of menopause, a time when women’s bodies change significantly and estrogen, a hormone that protects bones, decreases sharply. That’s why opting for a healthy lifestyle is a must especially if you have a family history of the condition.
The sooner you start keeping your bones healthy, the better off you will be in your 50s and beyond.
“In most cases, it’s imperative to discuss and put in place a bone loss prevention plan with your doctor when the first signs of menopause appear,” says women’s health specialist Holly L. Thacker, MD, FACP from Cleveland Clinic. “It’s a great time to get a baseline bone density test and to go over your family history, lifestyle and medications, and what you can do to be strong and healthy.”
How can I keep my bones strong as I age?
It’s true that many risk factors for osteoporosis, such as your sex, age, and genes, are not things you can change. But there are things you can do to improve your bone health. This includes adopting a healthy diet that is rich in calcium and getting enough vitamin D, which can help maintain and improve bone health. Regular exercise can also help strengthen your bones or prevent bone loss.
Weight-bearing exercise and resistance exercise can improve bone density and help to prevent osteoporosis. If you find high-impact activities are hard on your joints, 30 minutes of brisk walking a day is another good choice or you can use every opportunity of sitting down and standing up to build lower body strength. Activities such as yoga, pilates, and tai chi can also be very beneficial as they work on your balance, coordination and flexibility, which will help your everyday ability to move around, such as getting in and out of cars, loading the washing machine, reaching up to a high shelf on tiptoes, or picking something off the floor. Practising balance while brushing your teeth or while watching TV is also a great way to keep fit and turn the balance system on.
- Get your vitamin D
It is crucial for strong bones. If your vitamin D level is low, talk with your doctor about taking a supplement or improving your diet by eating foods that support bone health. Good sources of vitamin D include oily fish, such as salmon, trout, whitefish and tuna. Sunlight also contributes to the body’s production of vitamin D.
- Say yes to dairy foods
To improve or maintain your bone health, you need to get adequate amounts of calcium from your diet and dairy is one of the best sources you can find. But you can also get it from 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 your health specialist about whether you need a nutritional supplement.
- Stop smoking and drink less
Smoking is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis. Research suggests that tobacco use does contribute to weak bones. Similarly, regularly having more than one alcoholic drink a day for women may increase the risk of bone loss.
If you’re concerned about your bone health or your risk factors for osteoporosis, including a recent bone fracture, it’s worth consulting your doctor who might recommend a bone density test and can assess whether you might require some medication to help slow bone loss.