Support Your Bones That Support You

Senior woman listens seriously as her physical therapist sits with her and holds a model of the human skeletal system. The therapist is discussing the affects of osteoporosis in posture and the reason for resulting pain.

May is National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month and a good reminder to take care of the skeleton that takes care of us. Bones support the body, help with movement, and protect vital organs. They are a strong yet flexible living tissue. But as we grow older, they can become fragile and weak.

What is osteoporosis

As a living tissue, bones are constantly being broken down and replaced. Osteoporosis occurs when the body doesn’t develop new bone at the same rate it loses old bone.  Because this bone disease takes time to develop and has no symptoms, individuals may have the condition and not know it. Often, the first sign is a broken bone in the spine, hip, wrist. Although the disease affects both men and women, women are more likely to develop it because of hormonal changes experienced during menopause and because women generally have less bone tissue to begin with. There are more than 3 million osteoporosis cases per year.

How to prevent osteoporosis

While there are some factors that can’t be changed like family history, medical diagnosis, or certain medications, there are few changes that can help lower the risk of developing osteoporosis.

  • A healthy diet rich in calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients will support bone health. Consuming low-fat dairy, leafy green vegetables, fish, and fruits should provide enough nutrients but supplements may be needed – especially if vitamin D is low. Primary medical providers can assist in understanding what additional vitamins and minerals are needed to prevent osteoporosis. Click here for a nutritional guide by the Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation (BHOF).
  • Physical activity is also critical for building and maintaining bones. Workouts that focus on the muscles, like weightlifting, band training, and functional movements, help strengthen the muscles and everyday abilities. Weight-bearing exercises, whether high- or low-impact, help with movement against gravity, keeping bones strong. Examples include dancing, hiking, elliptical training, and yoga. The BHOF has information on exercises and safe movement here.
  • Smoking and drinking alcohol are two vices that impact bone density. Smoking decreases the blood that helps bones heal, so quitting smoking is a critical step for protecting bone health. Reducing alcohol intake is also important because alcohol weakens the bones’ mechanical properties as lowers bone density. For more information on how to stop smoking, click here; for facts about alcohol and aging, go here.

Reba McEntire said, “To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone, and a funny bone.” But to age well in life, you need to do three things: eat right, exercise, and ditch destructive vices. Then, you’ll be supporting all 206 bones that support you.

Sources: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases; Mayo Clinic; Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation; Rush University Medical Center; National Institute on Aging; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Categories: Senior Health