5 simple ways to avoid osteoporosis

Bone health isn’t something we think about much. Hidden away as they are, our bones are woefully neglected, while we lavish attention on surface features such as skin, teeth and hair.

Its not helped by the myth that osteoporosis is a disease only affecting elderly women. In fact, making healthy lifestyle choices when were younger can dramatically reduce our risk of developing fragile bones.

And while its true that a third of women over 50 will suffer an osteoporotic fracture, one in five men in the same age range will also find themselves in the same situation. Discover more...

1. What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis causes bones to become so weak and fragile they break easily, even as a result of a minor fall, a bump - or just a sneeze.

Whats more, these fractures can be life-threatening and in extreme cases, become a major cause of pain and long-term disability.

2.  What causes osteoporosis?

Although we all start losing bone density when were around 35, the menopause speeds this up for women because of a drop in oestrogen. Thats why anyone whos had an early menopause or hysterectomy is more likely to develop osteoporosis.

Youre also at risk if youve got other hormone-related conditions, a family history of osteoporosis, youre a heavy drinker or smoker, youve used long-term high doses of corticosteroids (for conditions such as arthritis or asthma), or if you have an eating disorder, rheumatoid arthritis or malabsorption problems such as coeliac disease or Crohns disease.

3.  What symptoms should I look out for?

In the early stages, bone loss is usually symptom-free. But later on, red flags signalling a problem could be back pain (caused by fractured or collapsed vertebra), a loss of height, stooped posture and a bone fracture happening much more easily than youd expect.

4.  Can it be treated?

Yes, there is medication to help strengthen bones but sufferers are also advised to get plenty of exercise, top up on calcium and vitamin D and take precautions to avoid trips and falls.

5.  What can I do to avoid osteoporosis?

Prevention is the best way of maintaining bone health so follow these simple steps:

- Exercise regularly

Weight-bearing, muscle-strengthening and balance-training movements are the key to strong bones. Learn how to find a fitness routine that you love and will stick to.

- Pack your diet with bone-healthy nutrients

Were talking calcium, vitamin D and protein. Getting safely out in the sunshine will also boost your vitamin D.

- Make healthy lifestyle choices

You know the score: maintain a healthy body weight, dont smoke and only drink alcohol within safe limits.

- Check your risk factors

If youre over 50 and have one or more risk factors, make sure you chat to your GP about your concerns.

- Get tested and treated

If you are high risk, ask for a test and possibly start on the necessary medication to keep those bones fracture-free for as long as possible.