Love your bones: 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.
It’s not helped by the myth that osteoporosis is a disease only affecting ‘elderly women’. In fact, making healthy lifestyle choices when we’re younger can dramatically reduce our risk of developing fragile bones.
And while it’s 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.
So to mark World Osteoporosis Day, we’ve gathered together the must-know facts about the condition - together with 5 simple lifestyle steps to take today.
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.
What’s 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 we’re around 35, the menopause speeds this up for women because of a drop in oestrogen. That’s why anyone who’s had an early menopause or hysterectomy is more likely to develop osteoporosis.
You’re also at risk if you’ve got other hormone-related conditions, a family history of osteoporosis, you’re a heavy drinker or smoker, you’ve 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 Crohn’s 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 you’d 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:
1. Exercise regularly
Weight-bearing, muscle-strengthening and balance-training movements are the key to strong bones.
2. Pack your diet with bone-healthy nutrients
We’re talking calcium, vitamin D and protein. Getting safely out in the sunshine will also boost your vitamin D.
3. Make healthy lifestyle choices
You know the score: maintain a healthy body weight, don’t smoke and only drink alcohol within safe limits.
4. Check your risk factors
If you think you could be a candidate for osteoporosis, it’s worth taking a minute to complete the International Osteoporosis Foundation’s quick online risk test. If you’re over 50 and have one or more risk factors, make sure you chat to your GP about your concerns.
5. 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.