Nearly one-third of bone loss can occur before a diagnosis of osteoporosis is made. But you can prevent future bone loss caused by osteoporosis with early detection. Also, once you've had a fracture due to osteoporosis, your risk of future fractures is increased. It is important to prevent the first fracture. Taking preventive steps and reviewing risk factors now are especially smart approaches for women of all ages.
There are four simple steps to prevent osteoporosis:
- increase the amount of calcium and vitamin D in your diet
- exercise regularly; weight-bearing exercises like walking and weight lifting help bones stay strong
- if you smoke, develop a plan now to stop smoking or ask your health care professional to recommend methods to help you quit
- drink alcohol in moderation, if you drink In some women, medication may also be helpful. Ask your health care professional what the best osteoporosis prevention strategy is for you.
See the next page to learn more about dietary strategies for bone health.
Dietary Strategies to Prevent Osteoporosis
Adding calcium to your diet may be the easiest health-related change you can make. It's an important one, too. Calcium may reduce fractures caused by osteoporosis by as much as 50 percent. The Institute of Medicine recommends these calcium guidelines based on age:
- 1,300 mg/calcium/daily (the equivalent of three, eight-ounce glasses of milk plus trace sources found elsewhere in the diet will be enough) for girls age nine to 18
- 1,000 mg/calcium/daily for the average woman age 19 to 50
- 1,200 mg/calcium/daily for the woman age 51 or older
- If you have asthma, allergies, a thyroid condition or other chronic medical conditions you may need even higher daily calcium intake
National nutrition surveys have shown that many people consume less than half the amount of calcium recommended to build and maintain healthy bones. Good sources of calcium include:
- low fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream
- dark green, leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, collard greens, bok choy and spinach
- sardines and salmon with bones
- fortified tofu (a soybean product made from curdled soy milk)
- foods fortified with calcium, such as orange juice, cereals and breads
Vitamins for Bone Health
Difficulty digesting milk, which is called lactose intolerance, and stomach upset caused by dairy products may be more common as you age. If that's the case, yogurt with active cultures, buttermilk, cheddar and Swiss cheeses also are high in calcium but low in lactose, the culprit milk sugar. Many people mistakenly believe they are lactose intolerant when a simple sensitivity to dairy products or some other food substance is really the case; therefore, it's wise to check with your health care professional before you avoid dairy products. Products that contain lactose (such as Lactaid) can help people with lactose intolerance to consume dairy products.
To supplement your diet, you may wish to take calcium tablets. The most common and least expensive is calcium carbonate, which is found in antacid preparations for treating heartburn. Multivitamins generally do not provide enough calcium to meet the daily needs of a postmenopausal woman. In fact, the mineral calcium isn't always included in a multivitamin preparation, so be sure to read the label if you are relying on your vitamin supplement for calcium. To increase calcium in your diet, you may wish to take calcium supplements. Check for the elemental calcium content to add to your average daily intake.
Your diet should also be rich in vitamin D. This nutrient helps your body absorb calcium more efficiently and minimize bone loss. While vitamin D is synthesized into the skin from exposure to sunlight, you certainly don't want to spend hours soaking up the sun. You'll find plenty of this essential vitamin in fortified milk and cereals, as well as vitamin supplements. If your exposure to sunlight is limited, you may want to consider increasing your average intake of vitamin D. At least 400 units (I.U.) of vitamin D daily is recommended for menopausal women, but it's wise to talk to your health provider about your particular needs. Higher doses up to 800 IU may benefit women over the age of 65.
Exercise Strategies to Prevent Osteoperosis
Exercise can make or break your defense against osteoporosis. Although all exercise is beneficial to overall good health, weight-bearing exercise (any exercise in which your feet and legs bear your weight while performing it) may be the most important for preventing osteoporosis because it creates high pressure on the bone, which helps to build and maintain its strength. This includes brisk walking, dancing, racket sports and aerobics. Muscle strengthening exercise may also be beneficial, particularly for the large muscles of the shoulder, pelvis, hips, back and trunk.
In addition to its critical role in helping to reduce bone loss, exercise has plenty of other health benefits. For one, it helps to improve balance, an important consideration for older women who are at greatest risk for falling and breaking bones. If you do not routinely exercise, ask your health care professional to recommend a simple, safe program and start soon.
For muscle strengthening, you can use stationary weight machines at health clubs and gyms, and you can use free weights or elastic bands in the gym or at home. The important thing to remember is that you don't have to lift heavy weights to benefit from strength training. You should start with a light weight and gradually increase your repetitions and/or resistance as your strength increases. The goal is to build bone strength — not muscle mass, which requires numerous lifts with heavy weights.
A recent study, whose results surprised even the researchers who conducted it, showed that gardening went a long way to help reduce the risk for osteoporosis among the 3,310 women age 50 and older involved in the study. Gardening activities such as raking, thrusting a shovel into the ground, moving a wheelbarrow filled with dirt, weeds or mulch are all considered weigh-bearing exercises.
Copyright 2003 National Women's Health Resource Center Inc. (NWHRC).