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Osteoporosis

Five Steps to Better Bone Health

After a certain age, 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.

Osteoporosis, defined as reduced bone strength or weakening of the bones predisposing to an increased risk of fracture, can affect a person's ability to do daily activities.

Many people do not realize they have osteoporosis until they actually break a bone.

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 United States, 10 million people are living with osteoporosis and nearly 34 million more have low bone mass, a risk for osteoporosis development.

It is important to remember that bones are not a hard, lifeless structures, but complex living tissue. 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.

Tips for Preventing Bone Loss

There are things you can do, even well into your senior years, to stay safe and prevent and possibly reverse bone loss.

1. Have 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 to 18, 1,000 mg for ages 19 to 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 is not 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. The current recommendations for vitamin D intake are: adults 51 to 69, 400 IU daily, over 70 years old, 600 IU. People already diagnosed with osteoporosis should get at least 800 to 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.

Do not 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.

Talk to Your Doctor

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 is right for you.

This article originally appeared in UC Health Line (8/20/2009), a service of the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center Public Relations Department and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission.

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Last Reviewed: Aug 28, 2009

Nelson  Watts, MD, FACP, MACE Nelson Watts, MD, FACP, MACE
Professor of Medicine
Director, Bone Health and Osteoporosis Center
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati