It’s never too early to invest in bone health

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One in three women and one in five men over the age of 50 are at risk of a fracture due to osteoporosis. In fact, the International Osteoporosis Foundation says that an osteoporotic fracture is estimated to occur every three seconds.

“The likelihood of these fractures occurring, particularly at the hip and spine, increases with age in both women and men. Of particular concern are vertebral (spinal) and hip fractures. Vertebral fractures can result in serious consequences, including loss of height, intense back pain and deformity. A hip fracture often requires surgery and may result in loss of independence or death,” IOF says.

We know that osteoporosis (literally porous bone) is a disease that causes bones to become more fragile. For the most part there are no symptoms until a fracture occurs. But, the good news is that it’s now considered a treatable disease, and there is a lot you can do to prevent it from occurring.

Like what? Well, it’s never too early to start investing in bone health. Actually, the prevention of osteoporosis begins with optimal bone growth and development in children.

“Bones are living tissue, and the skeleton grows continually from birth to the end of the teenage years, reaching a maximum strength and size in early adulthood, around the mid-20s,” IOF says.

They also say that a 10 percent increase in peak bone mass in children reduces the risk of an osteoporotic fracture during adult life by 50 percent. So, now you ask, what can you do? You can ensure your child eats a nutritious diet with adequate calcium intake every day.

Make sure your child eats sufficient protein and gets enough vitamin D. Kids might turn their noses up at some foods that are high in vitamin D such as liver or mackerel, but a good tuna sandwich may hit the spot, as will eggs and cheese.

Look for foods fortified with vitamin D like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk and cereals. And, you know what else gives us a supply of vitamin D? Yup, playing outside in the sunshine. Getting into the habit of regular physical activity can sustain bone growth.

“Bone mass acquired during youth is an important determinant of the risk of osteoporotic fracture during later life,” IOF says. “The higher the peak bone mass, the lower the risk of osteoporosis.”

In bold type on their website, IOF says, “It is recommended children engage in physical activity for at least 40 minutes a day. Building bone density and mass is particularly important for young people aged 8 to 16.”

When peak bone mass is reached it’s maintained by a process called remodeling. This is when old bone is removed (resorption) and new bone is created (formation) continuously. “The renewal of bone is responsible for bone strength throughout life,” IOF explains.

Adults need the same nutritional advice as children. Eat a diet with an adequate amount of calcium and vitamin D. Avoid under-nutrition particularly the effects of severe weight-loss diets and eating disorders. Also avoid smoking and drinking heavily.

And, of course, participate in regular weight-bearing and resistance exercises to strengthen your bones. The National Institutes for Health describe weight-bearing exercises as those that force you to work against gravity such as walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, playing tennis and dancing.

Resistance exercises include lifting weights, dumbbells or working out with gravity bands. Using your body weight in exercises like doing pushups, chin-ups, sit-ups and body squats work as well. And, don’t forget balance exercises. Good balance prevents falls. Need I say more?

You’ll want to talk to your primary care provider to determine exactly what type of exercise will be best for you. It’s important that the exercises you choose are suited to your age and health condition and, of course, that you’ll actually do them.

If you are a woman post-menopause and not taking estrogen, or a man with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney or liver disease, or if you take certain medications known to cause bone loss you should have a DEXA scan which measures whether bone loss has occurred. This simple x-ray can be performed at Bonner General Health. What are you waiting for?

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at

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