If you're one of the 34 million Americans (women and men) who are at risk for the disease, you know that strengthening and protecting your bones is crucial. Osteoporosis means porous bones that weaken and can fracture with even minor incidents.
Some 55% of people 50 and older have osteoporosis or reduced bone mass. But "you can live with osteoporosis for a long, long time and never have complications such as fractures -- if you take certain precautions," says Felicia Cosman, MD, osteoporosis expert and medical director of the clinical research center at Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw, N.Y.
If you're nearing age 60 and have back pain, don't assume it's a normal part of getting older. You could be affected by a spinal compression fracture.
Back aches and pains can be a sign that small fractures are occurring in your vertebrae - the bones that form your spine. Soft, weakened bones are at the heart of this problem. Compression fractures are often caused by bone-thinning osteoporosis, especially if you are a postmenopausal woman over age 50.
When bones are brittle, everyday activities...
"Aerobic activity as well as strength training -- using weight machines, free weights, or elastic bands or just [doing] calisthenics -- can increase bone strength and reduce the risk of falling by improving balance and coordination," she says. (If you've had a major fracture, check with your doctor before doing any exercise.)
"I have one patient with osteoporosis who never exercised in her life, embarked on a gym program, and felt dramatically better after a few years," Cosman says. "She was much stronger, had better balance, and reduced her number of falls. She really helped herself."
Get plenty of calcium, a major building block of bone tissue. "Calcium gives bone its hardness and is very important for bone strength." Aim for 1,000 milligrams of dietary calcium per day if you're younger than 50 or a man age 50 to 70. Women age 50 and older and men age 71 and older need a total of 1,200 milligrams daily, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. That translates to three servings of high-calcium foods like milk, yogurt, cheese, or calcium-fortified citrus juice or cereal.
Preventing Falls With Osteoporosis
Go through your home and remove tripping hazards like throw rugs, curtain cords, and electrical wires. Keep hallways and bathrooms well lit, and install safety handles on the bathtub. Ask someone else to retrieve hard-to-reach items, Cosman advises.
One recent study found that practicing tai chi reduced the risk of falls in older adults by almost half.