Falls happen. They can be unexpected and painful.
The severity of injuries from a fall will often depend on the health of your bones.
Imagine two trees growing in your yard. One is old with branches that are dry, hard, fragile and easy to break.
Your other tree has strong, healthy, vibrant branches. The branches bend and sway in the wind but don’t break.
If something were to fall on both trees, the fragile one would be destroyed, with branches cracking and shattering. The other tree would bounce back.
Like a tree needs strong branches, you need strong bones to be able to recover quickly from an unexpected fall or injury.
What is Osteoporosis?
Your bones are alive and growing throughout your lifetime, and healthy bones are flexible and strong. However, osteoporosis can cause bones to become dry and brittle, resulting in breaks and fractures.
The goal with bone health is to continue building new bone tissue. Your bones are made with small spaces inside, and if you have osteoporosis, these small spaces can become larger, making the outer wall of your bone thinner and weaker. People in their 40s and 50s will often start breaking down bone mass faster.
Who has Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is most common in white and Asian women over the age of 65, and of the over 53 million people in the United States who have osteoporosis or low bone mass, 80% are women. But it can affect anybody.
You see, the National Institute on Aging calls osteoporosis a “silent disease,” and you may not even know there is a problem until you fall and break a bone. So, don’t wait until this happens, and make sure you are aware of the causes, symptoms and risks of osteoporosis.
Causes of Osteoporosis
While there are many causes for osteoporosis, the primary cause is hormone-related: low estrogen levels in women and androgen levels in men. But there are also dietary, medical and lifestyle factors as well, many of which can be addressed with proper education and attention.
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
The problem with any “silent disease” is that you don’t get a warning that it’s sneaking up on you. But there are subtle signs of osteoporosis you can watch for.
You may find that you (or a loved one) is starting to appear shorter or more hunched over. This can be a sign of the weakened bones in the spine starting to collapse. Additionally, any injury that results in a broken wrist, hip or other bone is a sign to check for osteoporosis.
The National Institute of Aging recommends that the best way to find if you are at risk is to have a bone density test to see how strong your bones are.
Risk factors for Osteoporosis
There are five risk factors for osteoporosis that you can’t change.
- Your sex. Women lose bone mass quicker than men.
- Your age. As you age, you develop thinner bones
- Your body size. Adults with small, thin frames are at higher risk
- Your ethnicity. White and Asian women are more likely to have osteoporosis.
- Your family history. If you have a parent or grandparent who has broken multiple bones, especially because of a fall, you are more likely to also have thinner bones and be at risk.
Since you can’t change these risk factors, it becomes even more important to focus on what you can change.
Here are five risk factors for osteoporosis you can change to help prevent osteoporosis.
- Poor diet
- Lack of activity
- Certain medications
- Heavy alcohol use
How can you prevent Osteoporosis?
To prevent osteoporosis, remember that your bones are living and active. Think of what you need to do to nurture a growing thing like a plant or pet, then apply those principles to your bones.
Feed your bones
Your bones desperately need calcium and vitamin D, which are the building blocks for tough yet flexible bones. You can find calcium in milk, leafy green vegetables and soybeans, or you take a calcium supplement.
Vitamin D helps bring calcium into your bones. So be sure to get plenty of the sunshine vitamin from diet, safe sun exposure or supplements.
Walk your bones
Physical activity is good for your body no matter your age. Simple activities like walking, climbing stairs and stretching can strengthen your bones. When you move your muscles regularly, you put tension on your bones, helping them to grow stronger. The National Institute of Health recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day to keep your bones strong.
Unfortunately, a fear of falling can limit the amount of physical activity you may be willing to get. And because older adults are at an increased risk for becoming isolated and depressed trying to prevent a fall, a medical alert device can help you to feel safe no matter where you are.
Protect your bones
Although you may be tempted to wrap yourself or a loved one in bubble wrap to keep their bones safe, that’s not really a practical solution!
The three things that harm your bones the most are smoking, alcohol and medications. Smoking decreases the amount of calcium your bones can absorb. Alcohol use has been shown to lead to a higher risk of falling.
And medications used for arthritis and asthma can also decrease your bone strength. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about how to protect your bones while taking these medications.
Broken bones can not only derail your plans for a healthy retirement but can also be deadly. Take steps now to keep your bones strong.
Have you already received a diagnosis of osteoporosis? Find out “What You Need to Know if You Have Osteoporosis”