A whopping 1.5 million Americans suffer from fractures due to weak and brittle bones. Even more concerning, most people don’t realize they’re at risk for osteoporosis until they break a bone.
“Osteoporosis is a silent disease, but its impact can be devastating,” says Sean Drake, M.D., internal medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. In addition to an increased risk of fracture, osteoporosis can lead to chronic pain, increased risk of falls and difficulty staying on your feet.
Building and Preserving Bone
Although bone loss occurs more rapidly after age 35, you can still preserve bone mass well into your golden years. In fact, according to Drake, the strategies you use in your 20s and 30s to build strong bones are the same ones you’ll use to prevent bone loss as you age.
Here are his top five bone-building suggestions:
- Adopt a bone-healthy diet: You can’t build and maintain strong bones without adequate calcium and vitamin D. Trouble is, most Americans fall short of these critical nutrients. Vitamin D is particularly challenging because the best source is sunlight exposure – and that’s sorely lacking in Michigan during the winter months. Be sure to load up on vitamin D-fortified foods like dairy milk and orange juice and talk to your doctor about getting your vitamin D levels tested. Calcium is easier to obtain. It’s widely available in everything from fortified grains to leafy greens. If you don’t get enough, your body will leach calcium from your bones to function.
- Get moving: There’s a reason why athletes have greater bone mineral density than non-athletes. Weight-bearing exercise of any type stresses bones — and they become denser and stronger in response. Even simple activities like walking or doing lunges can strengthen bones, enhance balance and reduce your odds of falling and fracturing something. On the other hand, activities like swimming, surfing, biking and horseback riding are not weight-bearing activities, so they don’t build bone.
- Avoid smoking: Smoking’s hit on bone is two-fold: It inhibits your body’s ability to absorb calcium and increases the rate of bone destruction as you age.
- Watch your alcohol intake: Consuming alcohol at moderate levels may be slightly bone-protective. But it’s tough to tease out whether the alcohol itself is helping bones or whether people who have low-to-moderate levels of alcohol intake have healthier lifestyles in general. One thing is certain, though: At higher intakes, alcohol has similar effects on bone as smoking — decreasing calcium absorption while increasing bone destruction.
- Be proactive: Osteoporosis is typically symptom-free until you break something. When women reach age 65, they should get screened (men can wait until they hit 70). Women under age 65 who are postmenopausal, as well as those who have broken a hip or suffered from a fragility fracture should also get screened.
Take Charge of Your Bone Health
If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis, there are a host of things you can do to protect yourself from fractures and breaks. In fact, there’s a whole class of drugs doctors can prescribe to help you build bone. While there’s no cure for osteoporosis, medications and lifestyle changes can help preserve your skeleton.
“It’s important to know what your risk factors are,” says Drake. “If you have a family history of osteoporosis, a petite frame, or you’ve been taking steroid medications for several years, you have a higher risk of developing bone disease and should talk to your doctor about getting screened sooner.”
To make an appointment with a Henry Ford doctor or dietitian to discuss your bone health, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Dr. Sean Drake is an internal medicine physician seeing patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Sterling Heights.