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When being dense is good: elder bone health and osteoporosis

by Sue Lanza

Millions of Americans are impacted by osteoporosis, a common bone disease which causes damage to the body's bone structure that can result in bone breakage and other injuries. The good news is that osteoporosis is often preventable with a proper focus on nutrition, physical activity and other lifestyle aspects. Get familiar with the risk factors for osteoporosis and how you can maintain solid bone health in your later years.

We all get issued 206 bones at birth but how we manage our body during our lifetime determines much about our exposure for bone diseases such as osteoporosis. Preserving bone vitality by keeping bones dense during the aging process requires a diligent awareness of three key areas:

Diet and Nutrition. The amount of minerals in the bones comes from a steady source of nutrients in food, primarily a well-balanced diet. Besides variety in the types of food, there needs to be adequate serving sizes especially in calcium-rich foods such as milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, beans, tofu, almonds, cabbage and salmon.

Ensuring your daily diet contains the needed balance or bone healthy nutrients is critical. Nutrients like calcium, Vitamin D, magnesium and phosphorus all have recommended amounts per day, calculated by age that you should attempt to meet. Familiarity with food labels when shopping will help you meet your allotments to keep your bones happy.

Physical Activities. Bone health maintenance experts suggest at least thirty minutes of some form of physical exertion each day ranging from light routines such as walking or golf to more intensive movement such as tennis or dancing. All types of physical activity have the potential for positive outcomes on bone health with some exercises benefiting bones more than others.

In general, the physical movement can enhance bone health when it temporarily stresses a particular bone and helps it build or uphold its strength. Periods of inactivity actually are shown to contribute to bone loss. Strength training and weight bearing exercises work best for bone health optimization. Those with any history of falls could still engage in physical activity but instead focus more on balance and gait training.

Other Lifestyle Factors. Good bone health also relies on sensible lifestyle aspects. Smoking should be stopped and consumption of alcoholic beverages limited. Sustaining a healthy weight for your body type is critical. On your next office visit with your physician, have your medication list handy to be sure that none of your medications could impact your bone structure.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a frequently seen disease of the bones that influences millions of Americans. During the course of the disease, bones weaken and are susceptible to breaks. One of the hallmarks of osteoporosis is the fact that symptoms are often not apparent until a fracture occurs. Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men.

Other risk factors for acquiring the disease include the following:

  • Other family members with the disease
  • Age over 50
  • Small or tiny body type
  • History of taking certain medications
  • Prior diagnosis of osteopenia, which is a condition of limited bone mass
  • Menopause

Types of osteoporosis

There are two main forms of osteoporosis: primary and secondary.

  1. Primary osteoporosis primarily impacts the elderly and is considered the most widely seen form of the disease. During the disease, the bone structure deteriorates by losing density and strength. Women are thought to be more susceptible to bone loss due to menopausal changes as well as the general aging process. Men are less likely to develop osteoporosis as they have a more steady bone loss versus the abrupt bone changes that women may experience. Each person is different in their response to the disease with diet, overall health and heredity playing a role.
  2. Secondary osteoporosis is a form of the disease that could effect younger adults as well as elderly patients as the cause of the disease is thought to be brought on by either another disease like leukemia or alcoholism, use of certain medications or even exposure to a toxic environment.

People with either form of osteoporosis are at great risk of having bone injuries such as fractures that can reduce muscle tone and could potentially lead to other physically debilitating conditions.

Three steps to improving bone health

So to assist yourself or a loved one in keeping your bones in the best possible condition as you age to avoid osteoporosis remember these three critical factors in boosting your bone health and keeping your bones dense:

1. Maintain a proper diet

2. Stay physically active

3. Make health lifestyle choices.

This is the one time that being called dense is a compliment.