Do you stand a bit straighter when you see an older, stooped woman and think, “That’ll never happen to me”? Osteoporosis—characterized by low bone mass, sometimes causing bent posture from small spinal fractures—is a silent disease, and women often don’t know they’re at risk until bones break. About 80 percent of the 10 million Americans with osteoporosis are women. Postmenopausal women are particularly susceptible, as estrogen levels decrease dramatically after menopause, increasing fracture risk.
You’re at higher risk if you’re Caucasian, Hispanic or Asian. And as you age, your risk goes up. You can’t do anything about those factors, but you can take control of others:
- Consume the right nutrients. Get enough calcium, which helps build strong bones, and vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. Women ages 51 to 70 need 1,200 mg calcium and 400 IU vitamin D daily; younger women need 1,000 mg calcium and 200 IU vitamin D.
- Exercise regularly. Try weight lifting or weight-bearing exercises like walking or aerobics to strengthen bones. You’ll also improve your balance and coordination, which decreases your chances of falling. Aim for 30 minutes most days of the week.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Women who weigh less than 127 pounds fracture more easily. Ample body fat may help cushion bones during a fall, but being overweight won’t prevent the disease.
- Eliminate vices. Chronic smoking and excessive drinking are both linked to increased bone fractures.
- Get tested. If your provider recommends a bone mineral density test, comply. Women ages 65 and older and high-risk women ages 60 and up should be screened regularly. Visit http://hipcalculator.fhcrc.org/ to estimate your fracture risk over the next five years.