The Time to Prevent Osteoporosis Is Now

Bone up on what you can do to maintain bone health as you age.

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on May 31, 2015
2 min read

Women are about four times as likely as men to get osteoporosis. Your chance to prevent it is now.

Bone loss is a part of aging for both sexes. But it can have greater consequences for women, who typically have lower bone mass to begin with. When you lose too much, the bones can become weak and break easily. Osteoporosis causes at least one fracture in as many as half of women older than 50, studies show.

So do what you can to stay sturdy and strong. Wanda Filer, MD, of Family First Health, offers these tips.

Ask your doctor about a bone density test. Short of a fracture, no early symptoms will tell you your bones are low on calcium -- but this exam will. It checks for osteoporosis and estimates your risk of getting a fracture.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that women who've broken a bone after age 50 have a bone density test and that all women 65 and up get the test. It's no more complicated than an X-ray. You lie on a table, usually fully clothed, while a machine scans your hip bones and lower spine.

Get enough calcium. Women 50 and younger need 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day. After 50, you need 1,200 milligrams a day. Aim to get all your calcium from food. Only use supplements to make up the rest. Too many calcium supplements can cause kidney stones, especially if you have a personal or family history of them.

Plus, "if you follow a low-fat, high-calcium diet, you get other health benefits, such as blood pressure control, in addition to maintaining bone health," Filer says.

Get enough vitamin D. Your body needs it to absorb calcium. Your bare skin without sunscreen makes vitamin D when it absorbs sunlight. "Though it’s not always possible, especially in the North, you should try to get about 10 minutes of sunlight per day without sunscreen," Filer says.

Few foods, besides fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, contain vitamin D naturally. Many foods with added calcium have added vitamin D, too. Check the labels. If you don’t take in enough D from sunlight or your diet, you might need a supplement. Ask your doctor.

Exercise. Do about 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise each day, and work on muscle strength two to three times per week. Weight-bearing exercises include Walking, stair-climbing, or Pilates. Those "will put a little stress on the bones and keep them strong," Filer says. Muscle-strengthening exercise includes lifting weights, lifting your own body weight (with push-ups, for example), and using resistance bands.

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