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Building Healthy Bones

Osteoporosis isn't something only your grandmother has to worry about. It can strike women at any age. In fact, more than 44 million Americans are at risk for osteoporosis, which occurs when your bones thin. One out of every two women over 50 will break a bone from osteoporosis in her lifetime. Learn what happens to your bones as you age and what steps you can take to prevent osteoporosis:

30 or younger

Until age 30, you form more bone than you break down.

You should:

  • Take the appropriate amount of calcium and vitamin D supplements.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Avoid bone "robbers" such as alcohol, caffeine and soda. They remove calcium from your bones.

30-50 years old

At 30, we hit our peak bone mass, and then our bones begin to break down. It's important to slow that decline.

You should:

  • Take the appropriate amount of calcium and vitamin D supplements.
  • Include weight-bearing exercises in your workouts.
  • Avoid bone “robbers.”
  • Get a heel screening to detect thinning bones. Heel screening uses ultrasound to detect bone loss in your heel.

50 or older

Because of declining estrogen, a woman's bone density plummets about 20 percent in the first five-to-seven years after the onset of menopause, increasing the risk for osteoporosis.

You should:

  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Take the appropriate amount of calcium and vitamin D supplements.
  • Talk to your doctor about getting a DEXA scan (it’s similar to an X-ray).

Lifestyle factors that affect bone health

Not eating enough calcium and vitamin D — Calcium is important for building and maintaining healthy bones. Vitamin D helps your body use calcium. If you don't get enough vitamin D or if your body doesn't absorb it well, you have a higher risk for bone loss and osteoporosis.

  • Adults under age 50: need 1,000 milligrams of calcium from all sources* and 400-800 international units (IU) of vitamin D every day
  • Adults age 50 and older: need 1,200 milligrams of calcium from all sources* and 800-1,000 IU of vitamin D every day

*This includes the total amount of calcium you get from both food and supplements.

Not eating enough fruits and vegetables — Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is important for bone health. In addition to calcium and vitamin D, your body also needs magnesium, potassium and vitamin K for healthy bones. If you don't get enough minerals and vitamins from foods, speak to your health care provider about taking a multivitamin or supplements.

Eating too much sodium, protein and caffeine — If your diet is high in sodium and/or caffeine, you may be losing calcium. Eating enough protein is important for bone health, but bone loss can occur if your diet is very high in non-dairy sources of animal protein. People who regularly drink cola drinks may have a higher risk for bone loss.

Leading a sedentary lifestyle — People who don't exercise have a higher risk for developing osteoporosis. Weight-bearing exercises like fast walking and weight-lifting can help keep bones strong.

Smoking — Chemicals in cigarettes are bad for your bone cells and might make it harder for your body to absorb calcium.

Drinking too much alcohol — Heavy drinking can reduce bone formation and affect your body's calcium supply.

Losing weight — Losing weight can help prevent a variety of health conditions, but it also can cause bone loss. Protect your bones while losing weight by exercising and eating a well-balanced diet that includes enough calcium and vitamin D.

Medical conditions — There are many health problems and medications that can harm your bones and increase your risk for osteoporosis.

Screening

A painless bone density test can tell if you have osteoporosis now or what your risk is for developing it in the future. There are two types of tests:

  • DEXA scan is similar to an X-ray. A doctor's prescription is required. Your insurance may require a referral from your doctor, so talk with your doctor about whether you need a DEXA scan.
  • Heel screening uses ultrasound to detect bone loss in your heel. If a heel screening suggests bone loss, your doctor may recommend a DEXA scan.

Test results

You don't go from normal bones one day to osteoporosis the next. You lose bone density gradually, over years. When you have a bone density test, it compares your bones with a young, healthy adult.

Bone density score Compared to young, healthy adult
0 – 1 Normal
-1 to -2.5 Osteopenia (low bone mass)
-2.5 Osteoporosis (bone loss with risk for fracture)
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This is a non-profit organization. Please consider donating to help heal, comfort and care.

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