Unfortunately, our bones are not always as solid as we would like them to be. Consequently, approximately one in four women over the age of fifty, and one man in eight of the same age, that is to say close to 1.4 million Canadians, are suffering from osteoporosis. This disease of the skeletal system is characterized by fragile bones that are highly vulnerable to fractures. This is in no way banal, because for older individuals, a fracture can have very serious consequences. Notably, we fear hip fractures in the elderly, since up to 20% of those who have suffered one will perish within a year after the accident. And even when they survive, nearly 50% of seniors who have suffered a fracture have to leave their home because of a loss of autonomy.
But fear not! We can help prevent osteoporosis by adopting simple lifestyle habits…provided we see to it from early childhood onward.
Your bones are really alive! Bones are far from being inert structures: they are living tissues that perpetually renew themselves. It is during our childhood years however that we build our bone mass for life. Our bones actually reach their peak or maximum mass between the ages of 25 and 35. Thereafter, adults will lose anywhere between 0.3% and 0.5% of their bone mass every year, and this loss can reach 2 to 3% per year for menopaused women. Consequently, it is essential we attain maximum bone mass in adulthood, and that we subsequently take all the necessary measures to stop bone mass loss as much as possible.
Calcium is your friend ! The primary strategy in the prevention of osteoporosis is the adequate intake of both calcium and vitamin D. Even though most of the body’s calcium is stored in our bones, it also plays a valuable role in muscular contraction and nerve conduction.
Health Canada recommends a daily calcium intake of 500 to 1,500 mg, depending on the age and physical condition of the individual. To supplement their recommended nutritional calcium intake, certain individuals cannot count on diet alone. Many individuals must take calcium supplements. More specifically: menopaused women; individuals at risk or already suffering from osteoporosis; the elderly; vegans and vegetarians; and sometimes even children and teenagers, especially if they do not consume enough dairy products.
Products that are rich in calcium include dairy products, certain fortified soy milks and enriched orange juice, canned fish (with edible bones), and green vegetables.
Calcium’s friend: vitamin D Vitamin D encourages bone and teeth growth and helps keep them healthy. Furthermore, it is essential for the absorption of calcium, and it helps regulate phosphorus levels. Both minerals are essential for good health. The body produces between 80 and 90% of the vitamin D it requires, via the absorption of sun rays through the skin. Exposing the skin of the face and hands for 10 to 15 minutes three times per week can be sufficient in ensuring our body produces adequate amounts of vitamin D.
Although we mainly get vitamin D from the milk we consume in our diet, it can also be found in oily fish, eggs and butter. Other products that are enriched with calcium, such as orange juice and soy milks for example, often do not contain any vitamin D at all. Additionally, vitamin D supplements are usually necessary in cases where individuals are unable to get regular sun exposure.
Enemies: caffeine, alcohol and tobacco Other dietary habits are also important in maintaining good bone health. To avoid an excessive loss of calcium through urination, it is recommended we consume beverages with a high content of caffeine, notably colas, coffee and tea, in moderation. For example, it is recommended we do not drink more than four servings of coffee per day.
Furthermore, consuming excessive amounts of alcohol also has a negative impact on bone formation, and on the body’s capacity to absorb calcium. Consequently, it is recommended we do not consume more than two alcoholic beverages per day, without exceeding 14 drinks per week for men, and 9 drinks per week for women.
Another good reason to quit smoking: smoking is also terribly detrimental to bone health.
Stay active to keep your bones healthy Regular physical exercise is primordial for children, because it helps them attain a more substantial bone mass. In older individuals, regularly practicing adapted physical activities also helps increase muscular strength and flexibility, thereby decreasing their risk of a fall, which is the major cause of fractures in the elderly.
Physical activity increases the “stress” that is inflicted on our bones. Consequently, bones react by increasing their mass in order to distribute the imposed weight more adequately. It is recommended we do physical activities approximately 60 minutes, most days of the week. We can also take advantage of the benefits of exercise by integrating short sessions to our daily activities such as using the stairs more often, walking to the store and even gardening.
Physical exercises that improve balance, flexibility and coordination are known to decrease our risk of falling. Tai-chi, for example, is an activity that truly concentrates on these particular components.
If you are suffering from health problems, aches and pains, you may want to consider consulting a kinesiotherapist. This health professional can help you develop a training program adapted to your specific preferences, physical condition and age.
Check your home and medicine cabinet Individuals already at grips with osteoporosis should minimize their risks of falling as much as possible in order to prevent fractures and their potentially disastrous consequences. For example, you could remove any extra furniture or objects that may cause a fall, such as area rugs, and/or by modifying slippery surfaces.
It is also suggested we ask a health professional to review our prescription medications, as well as any herbal supplements and over-the-counter medications. In fact, certain medications and/or drug interactions can cause sleepiness, drowsiness and dizziness, and these can increase our risks of falling.
Although benign in appearance, osteoporosis can have serious consequences in our old age. But for now, prevention remains the very best weapon to help decrease the harmful effects of this disease in the elderly. To truly take advantage of the benefits of prevention however, we must see to it now!
If you are already suffering from osteoporosis, there are medications that help slow down bone loss. When taken with an adequate daily intake of calcium and vitamin D, and in combination with regular adapted physical activity, we can slow down the evolution of this disease and make our bones more resistant.
With osteoporosis, as is the case with many other diseases, the key resides in prevention. Take care of your bones today and increase your chances of living a healthier life.