TMH Living Well: Prevent osteoporosis with simple, daily habits
December 6, 2013
Here's another reason to stay active as we age: It keeps our bones strong. Just a little bit of weight-bearing exercise each day can make the difference between breaking bones and landing in a hospital or nursing home or staying independent and healthy at home.
Osteoporosis is a bone disease that's common in the later years — especially for women. As we age, we lose bone mass, and our bones can become weak and brittle. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, one in two women and one in four men will break a bone due to osteoporosis. With the disease, even a hard sneeze or a bump into furniture can result in a broken bone.
"Bone mass typically peaks in late puberty and is maintained through our 30s. But as people age, bone mass naturally deteriorates. This is especially true for women in menopause because bones become weaker without estrogen," said Dr. Jim Summers, an OBGYN at The Memorial Hospital.
The good news is that with healthy living habits and a few easy actions taken daily, osteoporosis can be prevented. To prevent osteoporosis:
• Get enough calcium and vitamin D
• Be physically active and do simple weight-bearing exercises
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• Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables
• Limit alcohol, don't smoke
• Get regular bone density scans if older than 65 years
"Taking calcium and vitamin D is an important way to prevent osteoporosis or its predecessor, osteopenia. I recommend taking 1,200 mg of calcium and 800 IU of vitamin D daily. Take them together, as the vitamin D helps bones absorb calcium," Summers advised.
To make it easy, choose a multivitamin that contains these amounts. You can get calcium and vitamin D from your diet if you eat plenty of green leafy vegetables and dairy products and spend time in the sun, but there is no harm in taking this amount each day regardless.
Women who are active and regularly get out and walk and move their bodies are much less likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis than those who are homebound. Being physically active and doing weight-bearing exercises makes a big difference.
"You don't have to go to the gym and pump a lot of iron. Carrying around a 2- or 5-pound weight or doing a short weight circuit for just 5 to 20 minutes a day is enough to help prevent osteoporosis, especially when coupled with some regular activity like walking, jogging or swimming," Summers added.
A recent study shows that eating fruits and vegetables — especially dried plums or prunes — helps maintain bone density. Potassium and magnesium in fruits and vegetables helps to neutralize acids created by digestion, which in turn slows bone loss.
"Maintaining such healthy lifestyle habits as eating well, exercising regularly, avoiding smoking and limiting your alcohol intake are good for your general health and good for your bones, as well," Summers said.
It's a good idea to have your doctor check your bone density throughout the years. While you don't need to get checked regularly until the age of 65, if you are a small-framed, Caucasian woman who has a family history of osteoporosis you might want to get a baseline sooner. The main test for osteoporosis is a bone density scan , which is available at TMH.
"There are two scores we get from a diagnostic bone density scan — a T score and a Z score. The T score compares your bone density to a typical 30-year-old man or woman. The Z score compares your bone density to a sample of someone who is your age," said Summers.
Certain medications and chronic diseases can increase your risk for osteoporosis. "We know that taking steroids or hypertension and thyroid medicines regularly can contribute to your risk for osteoporosis," Summers said.
It's good to know you can prevent osteoporosis, typically known as a woman's disease, with simple changes in your daily habits.
This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig – improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.