After a certain age, right around 35 or so, people begin to lose bone. It happens to everyone and without a proper diet, activity level and preventive measures, bone loss can lead to osteoporosis.
Nelson Watts, MD, an endocrinologist with UC Health and professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, says osteoporosis, defined as reduced bone strength or weakening of the bones, can really affect a person’s ability to do everyday things.
“Many people don’t realize they have osteoporosis until they actually break a bone,” says Watts.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis is a major public health threat for an estimated 44 million Americans, 55 percent of people over 50. In the U.S., 10 million people are living with osteoporosis and nearly 34 million more have low bone mass, a risk for osteoporosis development.
“It’s important to remember that bones are not a hard, lifeless structures, but complex living tissue,” Watts says. “They are constantly changing. You can build and store bone tissue efficiently until your 30s, but after that, bones begin to break down faster than new bone is formed.”
Watts says there are things you can do—even well into your senior years—to stay safe and prevent and possibly reverse bone loss.
1. Take a bone mineral density (BMD) test.
This is recommended for healthy women 65 and older, men age 70 and older, and for younger women and men at increased risk. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors for developing osteoporosis.
2. Get enough calcium and vitamin D.
Bones are made of calcium. The recommended daily allowance of calcium is 1300 milligrams (mg) per day for ages 9–18, 1,000 mg for ages 19–50 and 1,200 mg for those aged 51 and older. Calcium-rich foods include low or non-fat dairy, kale, broccoli and oranges.
But getting calcium alone isn’t enough. Vitamin D is also required—specifically because it helps in the absorption of calcium from food or supplements. Vitamin D deficiency can result in bone loss and cause muscle weakness, which can lead to falls.
Vitamin D is measured in IU, or International Units. Adults 51–69 require 400 IU daily, and those over 70 require 600 IU. People already diagnosed with osteoporosis should get at least 800–1,000 IU of vitamin D a day. Recent studies suggest that even higher doses of vitamin D may be beneficial
Multivitamins usually contain only 400 IU of vitamin D, so most people will need an additional supplement.
3. Be active, and build and protect strong bones.
Regular walking is one of the best exercises for osteoporosis. Find a flat surface—shopping malls work great—and start slow.
Weight-bearing exercises are also a great way to stimulate your bones, especially the hips and spine, and help you build stronger bones. But be cautious: Weight-bearing exercises that involve high impact can be hard on joints or weak bones.
Consult your physician before beginning a walking or weightlifting regimen.
4. Live healthily.
Don’t smoke or abuse alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption and smoking rob the bones of hard-earned calcium and mineral content, making them weak and fragile.
5. Be Careful.
If you have weakened bones or have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you are at greater risk for fractures. Avoid lifting or pushing heavy objects, walking on uneven surfaces and bending at the waist to retrieve things from the ground.
In addition to lifestyle changes, there are a number of medications available to help increase the strength of bones and prevent fractures. Your physician can help determine what’s right for you.