Are you already on the path to osteoporosis?
When it comes to osteoporosis, it's never too early to start protecting yourself. A few simple lifestyle changes are all it takes
You trip, put out a hand to save yourself and, without warning, you end up in plaster with a broken bone. It could happen to any of us. Its painful, inconvenient and a very real risk for the one in every two women over 50 who breaks a bone after a trivial fall because of osteoporosis. Healthy bones should be able to withstand a fall from standing height, says the National Osteoporosis Society (NOS). But from our 30s onwards, being aware and making some simple lifestyle changes can help us ensure that a break means a holiday and not a hospital stay.
Sleep soundly but skip the lie-in
Keep your back in alignment by sleeping on your side, or on your back with a pillow under your knees. Then set the alarm. One study of 19,000 people found that those who slept for more than eight hours a night were at higher risk of osteoporosis.
Eat greens - and not just spinach
Not all greens are equal. Watercress and spinach contain oxalic acid, which blocks the uptake of calcium by the bones. Try kale, spring greens, and broccoli, which dont have that effect, explains Sarah Leyland of the NOS
Think slim, not skinny
Ask about your mum's health (and don't forget your dad's)
You may not realise it, but 80% of bone health is inherited so your mums broken hip could affect your health. But having a father who fractures a bone, as one in five older men do, also increases your risk. Here's what you should ask your mum about her menopause.
Resist bone loss with the right workout
Weight training and Pilates with are both types of resistance exercise, which tones muscles, strengthens bones and, as a bonus, sees off batwings, too. If youre fit and active, try for three sessions a week, leaving a rest day in between to let your body recover. Cant stand the gym? Use your own body weight press-ups can improve bone density in the forearm, says the NOS. (If the mere thought makes you groan, start by doing them against a wall.)
Skip the sunscreen but just for 10 minutes
Sunshine provides 90% of the vitamin D our bones need, so take advantage of it when it does appear. Aim for two 10-minute sun breaks a day between May and September, without sunscreen, to allow skin to soak up the sun and strengthen bones naturally.
Dance, but don't party
Dancing is a great way to protect your bones, but avoid smoking and heavy drinking. Cigarettes and an alcohol intake of more than two units a day both erode bone.
Keep a diary (but not like Bridget Jones)
Instead, track your periods, as its not just fertility thats affected if illness or weight loss interferes with menstruation. Oestrogen produced during the cycle also protects our bones, so any woman whose periods stop for six months or more should see her GP. If the cause is premature menopause, HRT is usually prescribed until 52 the average age at which periods stop.
Worry less about weight and more about height
Osteoporosis is one condition where its better to be heavier than lighter, says rheumatologist Professor David Reid of the University of Aberdeen, because a few extra pounds may protect your bones. In contrast, monitoring height is vital, as a subtle loss of inches is a sign of compressed or fractured vertebrae in the spine. Check it every year after your 50th birthday losing more than 4cm (1½ inches) needs attention.
Go for a walk - and take the kids
Do their bones a favour and drag them away from the iPad. Young girls, in particular, need plenty of exercise to build up their bone bank and prevent future problems. Its especially important when they start secondary school, because they create as much bone between the ages of 11 and 13 as they will lose in the 30 years post-menopause.
Health problems weaken bones, but so can the cure
Anyone with rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel or coeliac disease, or an overactive thyroid should be monitored for osteoporosis. And make sure youre assessed if youre prescribed drugs for epilepsy or have taken steroids (prednisolone) for more than three months.
Say no to diet cola and yes to latte
Regular cola drinkers may be at greater risk of bone loss, according to US research. But its the acidity not the caffeine thats to blame. Although high levels of coffee can lead to calcium loss, its unlikely to harm bones unless you have more than five cups a day. To be safe, drink it white. Just two tablespoons of milk per cup can help neutralise the effect.
Be picky with the protein unless it's from plants
Most protein is acidic (but not in taste) and leaches calcium from the bones one reason why were advised to limit our daily intake to 1.5g per kg of body weight (around 95g for a 10-stone woman). The trouble is, were also supposed to eat 700g calcium a day and the best sources are often high in protein. Try to balance animal protein with alkaline foods such as protein-rich beans, fruit and veg. But avoid calcium supplements unless you are medically advised to take them.
Lean back, not forwards
If youre at a high risk of osteoporosis, swap sit-ups and toe touches for baby backbends. Too much forward movement can put pressure on the spine, and if your back is fragile it could cause a compression fracture. Ask your instructor for alternatives, such as sit-ups with a cradle, says Sarah Leyland of the NOS, and take care when bending or twisting during golf and tennis. Visit www.nos.org.uk to download its leaflet, Exercise And Osteoporosis.
The Pill may help but the contraceptive jabs won't
Taking the contraceptive pill can top up the hormones needed to protect bones in women who have an early menopause. If you simply want to prevent pregnancy, however, avoid injectable contraceptives, which can make bones more fragile.
If you break a bone, your GP should ask questions
Funding is now available for GPs to assess patients for bone strength following a fragility fracture, and NICE is considering extending screening to all women over 65. But why wait? Work out your risk for yourself using the Frax tool from The University of Sheffield (visit www.shef.ac.uk/frax).
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