Five Steps to Bone Health

Health, Home & Family
on January 29, 2006

Osteoporosis is a condition that leaves bones porous, weak and prone to breaking in old age. The condition occurs in both men and women, though men tend to show signs a decade later than women.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis is largely preventable. And the best way to keep it at bay is to adopt lifestyle changes—before the age of 30 is best—that promote strong bones in later life. Even if you take preventive measures after 30, however, you may still prevent the worst consequences of osteoporosis.

• Step 1 Maintain adequate calcium intake. On average, you need between 1,000 and 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day. The best source is foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt, dark green leafy vegetables, bone-in sardines and salmon, and calcium-fortified juices and cereals. If you can’t get all the calcium you need through your diet, take a calcium supplement.

• Step 2 Get adequate vitamin D, which the body needs to absorb calcium and build bones. The recommended dose is 400 to 800 international units a day. You get vitamin D two ways: your skin “manufactures” it when exposed to direct sunlight, and it’s found in egg yolks, liver and fortified dairy products. If you aren’t the outdoors type or don’t eat enough vitamin D-rich foods, take a supplement.

• Step 3 Get physical. Exercise that places weight or resistance on your bones is important to maintain strong bones. Workouts with hand weights and stretch bands, and activities such as walking, dancing, jogging, stair-climbing, racquet sports and hiking are all good for bone health. However, always check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

• Step 4 Stop smoking and limit alcohol use. Smoking reduces calcium absorption in both men and women and also reduces the bone-protecting benefits of women’s natural estrogen. Those who drink large amounts of alcohol have a higher rate of osteoporosis and also experience more bone-breaking falls.

• Step 5 Get a bone density test from your doctor and, when necessary, take medications that treat osteoporosis and can slow the progression of osteopenia—a pre-osteoporosis condition. Both conditions can be diagnosed with a painless bone mineral density test, and both can be treated with the same medications.

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