Strategies to lower your risk of osteoporosis

October 15, 2019 in Health Risk Management  •  By Miles Varn, MD

While osteoporosis prevention may not cross your mind in your 20s, it’s the best time to start taking steps that can strengthen your bones and lower your risk of developing this disease when you’re older. Even if you don’t get started building bone strength that early, you can still have a positive impact on the health of your bones by making and sticking with healthy lifestyle choices.

Understanding osteoporosis

Throughout your life, bone is constantly being broken down by the body and replaced with new bone. In osteoporosis, the creation of new bone no longer keeps pace with the breakdown of existing bone, which makes the bones porous, brittle, and weaker. Bone in this weakened state is more vulnerable to fractures and, as the disease progresses, these fractures can occur when the bones are subjected to even small stresses like lifting or coughing.

There are some osteoporosis risk factors that you can’t control, including:

  • Older age: The peak of bone density occurs around age 30. After that, less new bone is built, causing decreased bone density.
  • Gender: Although both men and women can develop osteoporosis, women are more likely to develop the condition.
  • Race: Caucasian and Asian people are at higher risk.
  • Family history: There’s a genetic component to osteoporosis, so if your parents have the condition, you’re at an increased risk.
  • Size of body frame: People with smaller body frames are at increased risk.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: If you’ve been diagnosed with this disease, you may be at increased risk.

What you can do to manage your risk

Talk to your primary care physician to learn more about your personal risk for developing osteoporosis based on your family history and your health history and ask her or him what steps you can take to manage your risk.

There are several lifestyle changes you can make that may help make your bones stronger and lower your risk of osteoporosis, as well as offering other health benefits like decreasing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Those changes include:

  • Eat a diet rich in vitamin D and calcium: Choose foods like dark leafy green vegetables (such as broccoli, spinach, kale, collard greens, arugula, and bok choy), low-fat and fat-free dairy, salmon, sardines, herring, canned tuna, oysters, shrimp, eggs, and mushrooms. Some juices, cereals, and soy products are also fortified with calcium.
  • Take part in regular weight-bearing and strength training exercise: Some examples of weight-bearing exercise include aerobics, jogging, walking, tennis, yoga, tai chi, and dancing. Strength training can include lifting weights, resistance band workouts, and body weight exercises like squats, push-ups, and planks.
  • Limit alcohol intake: Drinking more than two alcoholic drinks per day has been associated with increased bone loss.
  • Don’t smoke: For pre-menopausal women, smoking can decrease the protective effects of the hormone estrogen on bones. For women and men of all ages, studies have found an association between tobacco use and a decrease in bone density.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: For women, being underweight is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis because it can lower the level of estrogen in the body, which is needed for healthy bone growth. Some studies have also found an association between being significantly overweight and an increased risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • Ask your doctor if your medications may increase your risk: Long-term use of medications that suppress your immune system, corticosteroids, antacids that contain aluminum, and some chemotherapy drugs may increase your osteoporosis risk. Talk with your doctor about your medications and build a strategy to mitigate your risk.