Brittle Bones

About 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, and 48 million have low bone mass density, or osteopenia, which can be a precursor for osteoporosis.  Osteoporosis is a serious condition because it makes your bones brittle, increasing your risk of fracture.  It is often called a “silent” disease because most people are not aware they have it until they suffer a fracture.   Fractures often rob previously active older adults of their mobility and independence, and they also increase the risk of early death from complications from bone weakness.  We need to do everything we can to guard our bone health.  Women 65 and older, and men older than 70 should have a baseline screening bone density scan, which is painless and quick – it only takes about 15 minutes.

Drugs or Diet?

To treat osteoporosis, talk with your doctor about trying bisphosphonates, which interfere with the natural process of bone breakdown.

In addition, getting enough calcium is key to preventing osteoporosis, and people 70 years and older should consume 1,200 mg each day.  It is preferable to consume calcium through dietary sources such as milk and dairy products, fortified cereals and fruit juices, leafy green vegetables, and canned fish – eat the soft bones for maximum benefit.  If you choose to take a calcium supplement, remember that your body can only absorb 600 mg of calcium at a time, so take one 600 mg in the morning, and one at night.

You should also get enough vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium from food.  About 15 minutes of sunlight per day will help your body synthesize vitamin D, but if you don’t get much sun exposure, eat plenty of D-rich foods (examples include fortified mile and juice, fatty fish, whole eggs, and fish oils).

Build Bones Through Exercise

Resistance, or weight bearing exercise, can also boost bone strength.  Resistance exercises include activities that force your muscles to pull on your bones.  This places your bones under stress, and because bone adapts to the stresses placed on it, this, in turn, stimulates the natural bone remodeling process, where new bone tissue is formed.

Resistance exercise also helps build muscle that can help support your bones and protect them from injury, but it doesn’t have to involve radical bench pressing with heavy weights.  The key is to focus on making sure that your body pushes and pulls against some kind of resistance, using dumbbells, stretchy bands, or even your own body weight working against gravity, such as walking, jogging, or aerobics.  Getting a daily 30-minute walk is an easy way to boost your bone strength, but keep in mind that swimming and cycling, which are terrific exercises, are not considered to be weight-bearing exercises.

Focus on Healthy Aging

Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai

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