Osteoporosis can touch everyone, regardless of race, gender, or national borders. That's why the International Osteoporosis Foundation marks World Osteoporosis Day on Thursday, October 20.
Osteoporosis is a disease characterised by low bone mass, which correlates with a high risk of fracture. It's a very common condition among adults over fifty. This year's World Osteoporosis Day campaign focuses on raising awareness of the key components for avoiding osteoporotic fracture: Maintaining sufficient daily levels of vitamin D, calcium, protein, and physical exercise at all ages.
“Osteoporosis by itself is a silent disease,” said Susan Randall, RN, MSN, FNP, Senior Director for Science and Education at the National Osteoporoisis Foundation. “There's no pain or discomfort until someone is diagnosed with osteoporosis based on a test, or until they suffer a fracture. At that point, osteoporosis is no longer silent. Fractures are manifestation of the disease.”
Osteoporosis is most likely to affect post-menopausal women and older men. But awareness and prevention can start at any age.
“It's never too late to preserve your bones,” Randall told dailyRx. “But the key bone-building years are between ages of nine and 20. That's when kids go through growth spurt, building their bones and their bone bank.”
She added that for most people, total amount of bone you'll have in your life is set by age 20. “The job throughout the rest of life is to preserve that bone bank. It's like retirement, you have to save it while you're young to have it when you're old.”
“Three Steps to Unbreakable Bones” is a report released by the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF), just in time for World Osteoporosis Day reading. The report emphasizes the importance of Vitamin D, calcium, and exercise.
Vitamin D is considered essential for building and maintaining strong and healthy bones. It helps bones absorb calcium, reduces bone loss, and stimulates muscle tissue to lower the risk of falling, among other benefits. It's been estimated that between 30 to 50 percent of the US adult population is vitamin D deficient. While children are less likely to develop osteoporosis, they are at a similar risk of vitamin D deficiencies.
“It's almost impossible to get enough through your diet,” said Randall. “The body converts sunlight to vitamin D, but as we age, our skin becomes less effective at converting sunlight. So we find many people have to take a supplement.”
The IOF provides recommendations of 800 to 1000 IU/day for fall and fracture prevention in adults aged 60 and above.
You might not realize it, but the food choices you make every day can influence your chances of having a bone fracture whether you're young or old. Calcium is absorbed into the body from the foods that we eat. Calcium is a key structural component of bone. In fact, that's where 99% of our body's calcium stores reside. Calcium also plays a role in muscle contraction.
While osteoporosis is an older person's condition, childhood is an important time to focus on eating a calcium-rich diet for building strong, healthy bones. However, it's essential to keep calcium in your diet throughout your life, in order to maintain bone density.
Foods rich in calcium include:
- Tofu and other soy products
Randall notes that many people may not be able to consume dairy, the most reliable source of calcium. She encourages those who are lactose-intolerant to get creative, and start checking labels for favorite foods high in calcium.
Protein is also important for strong bones and muscles. Eating protein-rich foods like fish, meat, beans, and nuts is especially essential later in life, when people start to lose muscle mass. Seniors with decreased protein intake are more likely to experience muscle weakness, sarcopenia, and frailty. All of these conditions contribute to an increased risk of falling.
As we age, we naturally experience bone loss and muscle waste. Physical activity and exercise is necessary to stimulate both our bodies and our bones, and prevent fractures from happening. Exercise also strengthens our muscles, and decreases our risk of falling and causing those fractures.
Studies show that people who exercise have significantly higher bone mass density than those who do not. For bone health, high-intensity exercise like jogging, jumping, and weight lifting are most effective. Of course, it's more difficult for seniors to participate in high-energy activities. But laying down a good foundation of exercise when you're young and agile also decreases your risk of falls later in life.
The IOF provides these tips to stay active:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Walk, rather than drive, short distances from your home.
- Make it a habit to go for a walk. Create daily and weekly goals for yourself.
- Stand on one leg while doing small tasks, like brushing your teeth or making coffee.
Keeping up with a regular exercise regimen is an excellent idea for people at risk of osteoporosis. Exercises that involve muscle strengthening, balance training, and coordination exercises are highly recommended by the IOF. Consult your doctor or other health care professional while you're developing your program, and make sure that you're staying safe while exercising, not putting yourself at risk for fractures.
Just remember, these tips are not just for World Osteoporosis Day! Bone health and muscle strength is important for every day of your life.