Osteoporosis is pretty common in older men and women. It makes bones thin and more likely to break, and it is a major reason for fractures in women after menopause. If bones are fragile, even a minor fall can cause fractures.
I broke my arm once while high-jumping in a high school gym class. It was just a hairline fracture, but it was oh so painful. I never want to experience another fracture. Ever.
How can we keep our bones strong?
- Get enough calcium. Our body doesn’t make calcium, so the only way we get it is by ingesting it. Take calcium supplements and eat calcium-rich foods, including dairy products, orange juice and cereals that are fortified with calcium, dark green leafy greens, sardines, and salmon with bones
There are some foods to avoid … those containing oxalates or phytates, which interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium. For example, a half cup of cooked spinach has 122 mg of calcium, but the amount of calcium that the body is actually able to absorb is close to zero because spinach is high in oxalates. Choose low-oxalate vegetables, such as kale, broccoli, bok choy, and turnip greens.
What to avoid:
High-oxalate foods: blackberries, blueberries, citrus peel, Concord grapes, gooseberries, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, beet leaves, leeks, okra, parsley, spinach, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, beer, berry juices, coffee, cola, tea, almonds, cocoa, peanuts, pecans, poppy seeds.
High-phytate foods: barley, beans, bran and wheat cereals, corn chips, nuts, oats, rice, rye bread, sesame seeds, wheat bran, wheat germ.
- Get enough vitamin D. Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium. Exposure to sunlight causes our bodies to make vitamin D, but many older people don’t get enough vitamin D this way. Also, as we grow older, our need for vitamin D increases. Eating foods rich in vitamin D—foods like herring, sardines, salmon, tuna, liver, eggs, and fortified milk—is essential. Vitamin D supplements may also be needed, but be careful because taking too much may be harmful.
- Get 30 minutes of physical activity per day. This could be walking, dancing, stair climbing, gardening or weight lifting. Always warm up before exercising, and consider age, medical history, and risk of suffering a fracture when determining the type of exercise to undertake. Also, exercise must be regular to have any benefit.
- Get a bone density test. Bone loss occurs without symptoms and can go undetected for many years. A bone density test is a painless way to assess bone health and risk of future fractures.
- Be a non-smoker and limit alcohol. Smoking and alcohol can decrease bone mass.
- Stay hydrated. Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water a day. Some supplements are hard on the digestive system, so hydration is important.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being underweight increases the risk of bone loss and broken bones.
It’s important to consult a doctor before taking any new supplements. Talk to your doctor about Osteoporosis and about the amount of calcium and vitamin D that’s right for you.
Genetics also affect bone strength. While we can’t do much about that, you can see there is much that is within our control.