If you are one of the lucky ones, you will go through life never giving a second thought to your bones. But many people do face bone problems, especially as they age. Studies suggest that one in two women and up to one in four men in America over age 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis, and the number of broken hips is expected to skyrocket as the population ages.
Osteoporosis means “porous bone.” It defines bone that has lost density or mass and that the structure of the bone tissue has become abnormal. With less density, bones become weaker and are more likely to break. Broken bones due to osteoporosis are most likely to occur in the hip, spine and wrist, although other bones can break too.
Osteoporosis is a significant public health issue that causes serious problems and may indirectly lead to death. Twenty percent of seniors who break a hip die within one year from problems related to the broken bone itself or surgery to repair it. Many of those who survive need long-term nursing home care.
Osteoporosis is costly. It is responsible for two million broken bones and $19 billion in related costs every year according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
As with most health issues there are a variety of factors — both controllable and uncontrollable that put individuals at risk for developing osteoporosis. Some of the uncontrollable risk factors include being over age 50, female, reaching menopause, family history of osteoporosis and low body weight or being small and thin. The key to prevention is knowing and correcting the factors that can be controlled such as eating a diet containing good sources of calcium and vitamin D, participating in regular weight-bearing exercise, and avoiding too much alcohol and smoking.
Osteoporosis can sneak up on you. It is often called a silent disease because you can’t feel your bones getting weaker. Breaking a bone is often the first sign that you have osteoporosis or you may notice that you are getting shorter. Seek a medical professional to diagnose osteoporosis and estimate your risk of breaking a bone.
Recently, I completed my second bone-health screening scan three years after my first scan. Results of the second scan found bone mineral density lower than normal in the hips. It is not low enough to be considered osteoporosis, but the lower bone mass is categorized as osteopenia. I presently follow a diet to rebuild bone mass that includes lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. With a physician’s consultation, supplements of calcium and vitamin D may be added.
Exercise helps strengthen bones too. The best exercise for bones is weight-bearing exercise which puts weight on the bones as movement is made against gravity. Walking, jogging, climbing stairs, playing tennis and dancing are all weight-bearing activities. Swimming and biking are not. Additionally, exercise can help prevent falls that increase the risk of bone fractures because it improves muscle strength, coordination and balance.
Although women are at greater risk, men get osteoporosis too. Approximately two million American men already have osteoporosis and 12 million more are at risk as reported on the National Osteoporosis Foundation website. Many of the risk factors that put women at risk for osteoporosis apply to men also along with low testosterone levels.
It’s never too late to take steps to protect your bones. Means exist to promote bone health, some as simple as adjusting your diet, engaging in regular exercise activities and getting an annual bone checkup. For additional information, ask your medical professional or consult the National Osteoporosis Foundation at http://nof.org.