If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, a daily glass of milk will keep your bones healthy and strong well into your twilight years. Osteoporosis affects one in two women aged 60 or over, but that doesn’t mean you should wait until you’re older for it to concern you. Developing strong bones early in life is essential if you want to avoid experiencing osteoporosis later on.
What is osteoperosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition that results in the loss of bone strength. It might not sound like a huge concern on the surface, but ask anyone who suffers from the condition and they’ll tell you that even the smallest bumps or falls due to slipping or stumbling can lead to painful fractures and hospitalisation.
Bone is living tissue made up of specialised bone cells. Like the rest of the body, it’s constantly being broken down and renewed. From your mid-’30s onwards, there is a mismatch between bone production and bone breakdown, and as a result bone loss begins to overtake bone gain.
According to Osteoporosis Australia, women are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis than men, mainly due to the rapid decline in oestrogen levels after menopause. “Oestrogen is an important hormone for maintaining healthy bones,” they advise. “When oestrogen levels decrease, the bones lose calcium and other minerals at a much faster rate.” That’s why risk increases as you get older, as bone loss ramps up to approximately 1-5 percent per year after menopause.
What can you do about it?
Fortunately, whether you’re 25 or 65, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.
Calcium is one of the essential nutrients necessary for healthy bone development, says Professor Helena Teede, Director of Research from Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. Calcium is excreted by the body daily, so it is important to include an adequate daily intake of calcium through the diet, so your bone mineral strength is not compromised.
“Ensure that you consume the recommended amount of calcium every day, which is 1,000 milligrams for women under 50, and 1,300 milligrams for women aged under 19 or over 50,” she says. Great sources of calcium include a glass of milk (300 milligrams), a slice of cheese (150 milligrams) or a tub of yoghurt (300 milligrams).
Being healthy and strong from a fitness perspective is just as important as taking in enough calcium each day. If you’re a smoker, you risk losing bone strength at a faster rate than women who do not smoke, so kicking the habit will benefit more than just your lungs. Also, bones need physical activity to gain strength, so weight-bearing and strength training exercises are the most beneficial to bones.
“Incorporate some weight-bearing exercises into your routine,” Teede suggests. “Good examples are brisk walking, running, tennis and dancing. Exercises such as tai chi can improve your balance and reaction time and lower your risk of falls.”
Finally, if you’ve turned 60 and you’ve reached an age where osteoporosis is a serious risk, be careful of your surroundings to ensure you don’t hurt yourself.
“You can help prevent falls by removing items that may cause you to trip, such as rugs, using a non-slip mat in the bath or shower, wearing footwear with good traction and ensuring rooms are well-lit,” Teede adds.
For more information on bone health, visit Bone Health For Life.