Osteoporosis will affect one in three women and one in five men in their lifetime. That’s why it’s never too early to start making the lifestyle changes that can help protect your bones from this disease. The first step is to talk with your doctor about your personal risk factors and what you can do to lower your risk.
The most common risk factors for osteoporosis include:
- Being female
- Being thin and having a small frame
- Being Caucasian or Asian
- Advanced age
- Menopause-related estrogen deficiency
- Fracture history in a first degree relative (parent, sibling, child)
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Low lifetime calcium intake
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Hyperthyroidism (your body produces too much thyroid hormone)
There are other significant, but less common risk factors, such as:
- Anorexia nervosa
- Early menopause, abnormal menstrual periods, or removal of the ovaries without hormone replacement before age 45
- More than three weeks of use of glucocorticoid medications
- Use of the blood thinner heparin
- Use of some anti-convulsant medicines
- Use of some diuretic medications
- Breast cancer survivors who underwent chemotherapy or treatment with aromatase inhibitors
- Men treated for prostate cancer who have low testosterone levels
- Surgery to remove a part of the stomach
- Gastric bypass surgery
- Digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease and celiac disease that inhibit your body’s ability to absorb calcium
While more women are diagnosed with osteoporosis, the condition is also a serious concern for men. In fact, more than 2 million men currently have the disease and an additional 12 million are at risk according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
What you can do to protect your bones
There are a number of things you can do to build and maintain stronger, healthier bones.
- Make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. For people between 19 and 50, the Institutes of Medicine recommend a daily calcium intake of 1,000 mg. After 50, the recommendation increases to 1,200 mg per day for women. Good food sources of calcium include dairy products, almonds, broccoli, kale, tofu, soy products, canned salmon that includes the bones and sardines. Vitamin D is also important for strong bones. It helps your body absorb calcium. Getting enough vitamin D can be challenging. The body makes it when exposed to sunlight, but concerns about skin cancer and the increased use of sunscreen mean many people aren’t producing as much vitamin D as they need. It’s also found in foods like soymilk, fortified milk and cereals, tuna, sardines and egg yolks, but most people do not eat enough of these foods to meet their daily vitamin D needs. Talk with your physician to find out if vitamin D or calcium supplementation are recommended for you.
- Make regular weight bearing and strength training exercise part of your workout. Experts recommend you take part in 30 minutes of exercise a day. There are a wide range of different types of exercise that can help protect your bones, from yoga and tai chi to water aerobics, walking and exercising with an elastic resistance band.
- Break bad habits. Smoking has been tied to an increase in bone loss as well as the other health hazards it presents. Excess alcohol consumption should also be avoided. More than two alcoholic drinks a day have been linked by researchers to decreased bone formation and calcium absorption. Some studies have also found that carbonated cola drinks may contribute to bone loss. Researchers think that the phosphorus in the soda may bind with calcium and prevent it from being absorbed.
In addition to working with your doctor, a personal health advisor can help you build a plan tailored to your needs and risk factors to help you lower your risk of osteoporosis. An advisor can also connect you with a physician with expertise in osteoporosis treatment if you’ve already been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia (bone loss). Healthy bone is a key part of your overall wellbeing throughout life, so start doing all you can to protect your bones now for a healthier tomorrow.