May is National Osteoporosis Month. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about 54 million Americans have osteoporosis and low bone density, sometimes called osteopenia. Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bones become weak and are more susceptible to fractures and breaks. Osteoporosis is often called a silent disease because bone loss typically occurs gradually over time without any symptoms. In fact, you may not know you have osteoporosis until you break a bone.
Osteoporosis and low bone density are diagnosed through a bone density scan. This scan, known as DEXA or DXA, can tell you if you have normal bone density, low bone density or osteoporosis, and can help you determine your risk for fractures. Women are at higher risk than men as they generally have smaller bones. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that you have a bone density test if:
- You are a woman age 65 or older
- You are a man age 70 or older
- You break a bone after age 50
- You are a woman of menopausal age with risk factors
- You are a postmenopausal woman under age 65 with risk factors
- You are a man age 50-69 with risk factors
The good news is that there is a lot that you can do to manage or help prevent osteoporosis and low bone density. It’s never too early or too late to start taking care of your bones. Here are four steps to help you keep your bones healthy and strong:
To build and maintain bone density, experts recommend a mix of both weight-bearing and strength-training exercises. Aim for 30 minutes each day of weight-bearing exercises such as brisk walking, hiking, and dancing. Weight-bearing exercises help the body work against gravity and encourage bone growth. Strength-training exercises, such as free weights or resistance bands, are suggested twice a week. Strength-training can help to prevent bone loss and may help to build new bone. Any exercise program should be tailored to your ability and situation, so it’s important to seek out professional advice from a personal trainer or physical therapist, particularly if you have osteoporosis or low bone density. Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider before you begin any exercise program.
A well-balanced diet is an important part of preventing and managing osteoporosis and low bone density. Bones are living tissues and they need a variety of nutrients to grow and stay strong. Calcium is the most abundant mineral of the bone and it’s an important part of a bone healthy diet. Aim for three to four servings of calcium rich foods each day such as low-fat dairy, leafy greens and other calcium fortified foods. The National Osteoporosis Foundation has made the following calcium recommendations: women age 50 and younger 1,000 mg daily, women age 51 and older 1,200 mg daily, men age 70 and younger 1,000 mg daily, and men age 71 and older 1,200 mg daily.
Vitamin D is critical for bone health, as Calcium needs Vitamin D to be absorbed. It’s important to know your levels so that if you are low, you can work with your healthcare provider to bring them up. Vitamin D is difficult to get through diet alone, so if you are not getting regular sun exposure, talk to your doctor about supplements.
Healthy Lifestyle Habits
The choices that you make each day can impact your bone health both now and in the future. Here are a few lifestyle tips to help you reduce your risk for bone loss: quit smoking, limit alcohol consumption, limit overly processed foods, limit foods high in sodium, and keep caffeine to a minimum.
Try implementing these steps today. Not only will they help you to have stronger bones, but also help to improve your health overall.