Bone Health 101

Ten million Americans over the age of 50 have osteoporosis, but many of them don't know it: A broken bone is often the clarion call signaling the presence of the disease.

The good news is that bone loss is preventable with the right dietary and fitness practices, early screening, and careful attention to risk factors. Osteoporosis expert Dr. Ethel Siris and Whole Living editor Alexandra Postman share strategies for maintaining strong and disease-free bones:

Get Enough Calcium, Don't Forget the D
Make no bones about it -- a calcium-rich diet helps prevent osteoporosis. Aside from dairy foods like milk, yogurt, and hard cheeses, other calcium-packed foods include sardines, salmon, and calcium-fortified juices.

Some confusion has arisen, however, regarding calcium supplements. To calculate how much you need, subtract the amount of calcium in your diet from 1,200 mg. Never take more than 600 mg at a time, and pay close attention to labels -- brands such as Caltrate need to be taken with food, while others like Citrical can be absorbed with or without food. Also, be sure to complement your calcium intake with at least 600 units of vitamin D, which is necessary for absorption.

Any Exercise Is Good Exercise
Weight-bearing and strengthening exercises put good stress on your bones, stimulating regrowth. But many varieties of cardiovascular exercises -- high-impact workouts such as jogging and low-impact alternatives like elliptical machines -- strengthen bones too. Exercises involving resistance, such as weight-lifting and even swimming, also build bone strength.

Get Screened Early
All women 65 and over should get bone-density testing, which is a comfortable test in which the patient lies on the table fully clothed and receives a full-body scan. New guidelines call for all postmenopausal women with risk factors to be screened, no matter their age.

What are the risk factors? The biggest are a broken bone at age 45 or older and a parent that has broken a hip. Others include weighing less than 125 pounds, smoking, or taking prednisone or cortisone for more than three months. Be sure to consult your doctor to determine whether you are particularly at risk for osteoporosis.

Learn more ways to strengthen your bones, and visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation for a complete list of osteoporosis risk factors and prevention tips.

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