Bone and Joint Health

Common Risk Factors for Osteoporosis That You Can Act Upon

Healthy aging means being aware of and learning how to prevent and manage chronic diseases, with osteoporosis chief among concerns for middle-aged to senior people. More than 40 million Americans deal with this disease, making it something you need to know about as you get older. Osteoporosis can make one bad fall much more serious than it would be when you were young, so how can you make sure your bones stay strong well into your golden years? By understanding the risk factors for osteoporosis, you can better prevent and cope with it.

While osteoporosis is not curable, there are things you can do to combat it. Begin by identifying relevant risk factors that are in your control. Addressing these can prevent or slow the disease, especially if dealt with early.

Hormones

During menopause, women experience much faster rates of bone loss than men do. This is because a woman's body produces less estrogen, a hormone that plays an important role in maintaining bone health. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), women "lose up to 20 percent of their bone density," especially during the five to seven years following menopause. Having a bone mineral density test is thus an important preventive measure.

Although some women cannot take them, estrogen therapy and progesterone (called hormone therapy) supplement lost hormones. They both relieve the symptoms of menopause and significantly lower the rate of bone loss. They don't come without significant risk, however, including breast cancer.

Smoking

Beyond wreaking havoc on your organs and overall health, smoking enhances your risk for osteoporosis. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that fully understanding the risk of smoking is complex, primarily because smoking causes other conditions -- such as a thin frame -- that contribute to osteoporosis. Smoking also:

  • Increases your risk for a fracture as you age.
  • Slows the healing of a fracture.
  • Contributes to significant bone loss.

Quitting smoking is the obvious solution; the NIH says research indicates smoking cessation can "help limit smoking-related bone loss."

Exercise

Exercise is proven to both prevent osteoporosis and manage its effects. The NOF recommends three types of exercises that benefit the body in numerous ways: Weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening activity, as well as such nonimpact activities as balance, posture, and functional exercises, combine to build bones, make you stronger, and improve coordination.

Weight-bearing exercises build bone and include such high-impact activities as dancing, jogging, climbing stairs, and jumping rope. Low-impact weight-bearing exercises, such as walking and using elliptical machines, are a useful alternative for those who need less strenuous exercises. Lifting weights and using elastic bands are examples of muscle-strengthening exercises. You might also try tai chi to improve balance, posture exercises to reduce spinal straining, and functional exercises to convert strenuous daily activities into a healthy workout.

Medications

Certain medications cause bone loss and contribute to osteoporosis. Steroids are especially troublesome. To find out the effect of any medicines you are taking, talk with your health care provider or pharmacist. Though this is by no means an exhaustive list, some medications known to play a role in bone loss include:

  • Dilantin, phenobarbital and other anti-seizure medicines.
  • Chemotherapy drugs used for cancer treatment.
  • Lithium.
  • Heparin.
  • Methotrexate.
  • Tamoxifen.
  • Lexapro and Prozac.

Nutrition

"A healthy diet can help you prevent and manage osteoporosis and related musculoskeletal disorders by assisting in the production and maintenance of bone," reports the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF). Calcium is essential in building bone because 99 percent of the body's calcium is stored in the skeletal system. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and is thus an essential nutrient, as well.

A diet adequate in protein helps older adults prevent bone loss, while fruit and vegetable consumption, according to the IOF, "is associated with beneficial effects on bone density in elderly men and women." Taking vitamin supplements, drinking adequate amounts of water, and reducing alcohol, fat, and salt intake are all healthy choices.

Prevention begins with understanding and controlling risk factors for osteoporosis. Fortunately, focusing on these risk factors benefits much more than just your bones. Eating well, stopping smoking, and exercising frequently are front-line prevention measures for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other health issues. Think of these practices as working on your whole body to ensure a long, healthy life.

Posted in Bone and Joint Health

Since retiring from a career as a medical, geriatric, and public social worker, Charles Hooper has published hundreds of articles and blog posts on a variety of topics, including health and medicine, politics and government, and advocacy. Charles graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master's degree in social work. He received an Outstanding Scholar award and graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where he majored in sociology and political science.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.