Consider these facts:
- One in two women age 50 or older will suffer a fracture as a direct result of osteoporosis.
- Osteoporosis accounts for more than 1.5 million fractures a year in the U.S. alone.
- Osteoporosis is not an inevitable part of aging.
While it’s true that bone loss speeds up after menopause because of dropping estrogen levels, there’s a lot women can do to safeguard their skeletal systems:
Factors that make women vulnerable to osteoporosis include being Caucasian, having a thin frame, leading a sedentary lifestyle, having a family history of the disease, suffering a previous fracture not caused by trauma, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Extensive use of corticosteroids, certain diuretics (water pills), blood thinners and too much thyroid hormone in the bloodstream also can sap bone strength.
Ask your doctor if you should get a bone-density test. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends the following women get the painless screening:
- postmenopausal women younger than age 65 with one or more risk factors
- all women older than 65, regardless of risk factors
- postmenopausal women who have fractures
The test results will help you and your doctor take appropriate action, which may include using medications to prevent or treat osteoporosis.
Performed at least 30 minutes three times a week, weight-bearing exercises such as walking can improve bone density. Low-impact activities such as tai chi promote better balance, flexibility and coordination. And resistance training strengthens muscles in the upper spine and arms, improves posture and prevents fractures.
Calcium supplements have been shown to reduce nonvertebral fractures significantly in elderly women and men. Recommended amounts include 1,200 mg daily for postmenopausal women. Dietary sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products, collard greens and canned sardines and salmon with bones.
Vitamin D helps the body use and absorb calcium. Good sources include vitamin D–fortified skim milk, liver, eggs and fish. About 15 minutes of sunlight exposure a day also helps the body maintain adequate levels.
Ask your doctor how much calcium and vitamin D is best for you and if supplements can help you meet your daily needs.
Smoking (no matter the amount) and drinking alcohol (more than two drinks a day) interfere with your body’s ability to absorb calcium and speed bone loss.
Don’t wait for a fracture to find out that your bones are in bad shape. Take advantage of medical advances that allow you to assess your bone health—and, more important, do something about it.