Should I Be Worried About Osteoporosis?

Mar 13, 2018 at 8:00 a.m. ET
Image: Getty Images/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

While you may think osteoporosis is uncommon or you don't need to worry about it if you're under 50, think again — it's unfortunately a fairly common disease and it's crucial to start taking care of your bones, like, yesterday. However, there is good news: It's never too late to work on your bone health. Here's how.

What is osteoporosis, anyway?

Simply put, osteoporosis is a disease of the bone. It happens when your body loses too much bone, doesn't make enough bone or in some cases both. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, healthy bone, when viewed under a microscope, looks like honeycomb, but in bones with osteoporosis, the holes and spaces in that honeycomb are far larger. This means the bone is less dense and more likely to fracture, which is a serious problem for those afflicted.

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For females, further details are pretty depressing. "Twice as many women have bone fractures from osteoporosis as men because women are often smaller, have less bone mass to begin with and tend to live longer," says Dr. Neel Anand, professor of orthopedic surgery and director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles. Additionally, he says far more women than men deal with it in the first place (8 million women to 2 million men), so the odds are definitely not stacked in the favor of the gals.

How can osteoporosis be prevented?

Anand notes that osteoporosis should not be thought of as a normal part of the aging process in humans. "Rather, it is an irreversible and degenerative disease that results in bone loss over time," he explains. It's better to start working on preventative measures in one's youth (yes, we're talking to you, Generation Z!), but he emphasizes that it's never too late to think about the possibility of osteoporosis and to work on preventing it in the first place.

Here are a few key points that can help you prevent osteoporosis at any age:

A well-balanced diet

It seems that eating well can help prevent a whole host of issues, such as obesity, heart problems, diabetes and so on. It turns out it can also positively impact your bone health.

"Unfortunately, the American diet falls far short of the recommended daily values of calcium and vitamin D, both essential for strong bone health and density," Anand explains. "Your diet must be well-balanced with an abundance of green leafy vegetables and fruit. Dairy sources such as milk, yogurt and cheese are sources high in calcium, while vitamin D quantities are typically highest in sources of wild-caught fatty fish like salmon and tuna." Also, you'll want to avoid high-salt foods and keep your coffee intake to three cups a day or less, as both can interfere with calcium absorption.

Exercise

Again, exercise is another factor in preventative health care than can help you avoid medical issues down the road. Interestingly enough, it's a crucial component of bone health, although you might find that fact surprising. For osteoporosis prevention, it's important to partake in both weight-bearing exercises (such as hiking, stair climbing, fast walking and aerobics) as well as muscle-building exercises (such as lifting weights, using elastic exercise bands and lifting your own body weight).

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"The key is to engage in exercise that is enjoyable so that you will be more likely to stick with it on a regular basis," says Anand. "Aim for at least three sessions a week if you're just starting out, with the goal of building up to five."

Avoid alcohol & smoking

Additionally, smoking and alcohol can have negative effects on the health of your bones. Experts recommend no more than two or three drinks per day and to abstain completely from cigarettes. "The chemicals in cigarettes have been widely studied as a significant contributor to bone loss, as does heavy alcohol consumption," Anand explains, adding that you should talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs if you're having trouble quitting.

Boost those bones

While osteoporosis can be a problem in people over 50, taking care of your bones is something that needs to start ASAP, whether you're 25 or 75. Keep your nutrition on the level, work more exercise into your life and avoid a few no-nos, and you're already well on the way to preventing what can be a life-impacting disease.

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