10 Ways to Safeguard Your Bones

One in two women and nearly one in four men over 50 will suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture. Fortunately, there are simple ways to slash your risk. Here's how.

Health Monitor Staff

One of the biggest problems with osteoporosis is that it's silent: You can't feel your bones becoming thinner and weaker. In fact, many people don't find out they have a problem until it's too late, after they've already fallen and broken a bone. But you don't have to become a statistic. Talk with your healthcare provider about how to lower your risk of developing osteoporosis. Then follow this 10-step plan to start preserving your bone health today.

1. Know your risk.
Because they naturally have lower bone mass and smaller bones, women are at much greater risk than men. Plus, in the five to seven years after menopause, women can lose up to 20% of their bone density because of the drop in estrogen, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF). If you are 45 or older, thin, tall or a smoker, you have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, says Carlos Isales, MD, professor of orthopedic surgery at Georgia Health Sciences University in Augusta. Other risk factors include drinking alcohol excessively, not exercising, having an eating disorder and not getting enough calcium.

2. Take stock of your family history.
If one of your parents has osteoporosis or has fractured a hip, tell your doctor. More than 50% of osteoporosis cases are genetic, says Dr. Isales.

3. Schedule a screening.
Since osteoporosis is a silent disease, you won't know you have it unless you are tested for it or you break a bone. If you have any risk factors, ask your doctor to test you for osteopenia (low bone density), the precursor to osteoporosis. Women 65 and older should be tested, as should men 70 and older, according to the NOF. If you break a bone after age 50 and/or have risk factors, ask about testing earlier. "After age 50, when you get screened is usually up to your doctor," says Sara Gottfried, MD, a gynecologist in Berkeley, California.

4. Have your bone density test on the same machine each time.
The results of your bone density test (the most common one is called a DXA—for “dual energy x-ray absorptiometry”) can vary from machine to machine, so if possible get your DXA test done at the same location each time, preferably on the same machine, to ensure uniform results, says Nathan Wei, MD, a rheumatologist in Frederick, Maryland.

5. Get enough calcium and vitamin D.
We lose calcium every day through our shed skin, hair and sweat and urine—and therefore need to replace it daily because our bodies can't make it on their own. Vitamin D is important too, since it improves the body’s calcium absorption. The goals: The NOF recommends adults under age 50 get 1,000 mg of calcium daily along with 400-800 IUs of vitamin D. If you're older than 50, the target is 1,200 mg of calcium daily with 800-1,000 IUs of vitamin D.

January 2012