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What is osteoporosis and how can I prevent it?

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Often incorrectly described at brittle bone disease, osteoporosis is something that many ageing people will have heard of and will likely be fearful of. Osteoporosis affects over 3 million people in the UK with more than 500,000 people receive hospital treatment for fragility fractures every year as a result of the disease.

Although ageing can lead to osteoporosis, there are ways that you can prevent the disease, and with the help of the NHS’s website here we will explain how.

But firstly, what is osteoporosis?

According to the NHS, “osteoporosis is a health condition that weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break. It develops slowly over several years and is often only diagnosed when a fall or sudden impact causes a bone to break (fracture)”.

The most common injuries associated with osteoporosis are a broken wrist, hip or spinal bones.
However, breaks can also happen in other bones, such as in the arm or pelvis.

What causes of osteoporosis?

The NHS explains: “Losing bone is a normal part of ageing, but some people lose bone much faster than normal. This can lead to osteoporosis and an increased risk of broken bones.

“Women also lose bone rapidly in the first few years after the menopause. Women are more at risk of osteoporosis than men, particularly if the menopause begins early (before the age of 45) or they’ve had their ovaries removed.”

Osteoporosis can also affect men, younger women and children and there are other factors that can also increase the risk of developing osteoporosis too. These include taking high-dose steroid tablets, a family history of osteoporosis, having or having had an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, not exercising regularly and heavy drinking and smoking.

How can we prevent osteoporosis?

Getting older is hard enough. You are more likely to develop diseases and certain health conditions, you may become unable to get around and do the things you used to do and you may feel isolated and lonely because of this. It is therefore a good idea to work towards prevention of osteoporosis before it’s too late to make life as an older adult a little easier.

Exercising regularly can go a long way to preventing osteoporosis. The NHS recommends that adults aged 19 to 64 should do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week. As well as aerobic exercise, adults aged 19 to 64 should also do muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week by working all the major muscle groups, including the legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, arms and shoulders.

Weight-bearing exercise and resistance exercise are particularly important for improving bone density and helping to prevent osteoporosis. People over the age of 60 can also benefit from regular weight-bearing exercise. This can include brisk walking, keep-fit classes or a game of tennis.

As well as exercising regularly, the NHS says that “eating a healthy, balanced diet is recommended for everyone. It can help prevent many serious health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and many forms of cancer, as well as osteoporosis. Calcium is important for maintaining strong bones. Adults need 700mg a day, which you should be able to get from your daily diet.”

If you would like to get more calcium into your diet, try eating more leafy green vegetables, dried fruit, tofu and yoghurt.

The NHS adds that “vitamin D is important for healthy bones and teeth because it helps your body absorb calcium. All adults should consume 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day.”

To get more vitamin D into your diet, try eating more oily fish such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel, red meat, liver, egg yolks and fortified foods such as most fat spreads and some breakfast cereals.

If you are finding it difficult to get enough vitamin D from foods alone, you could consider taking a daily supplement, but consult your GP first.

Lastly, to give yourself the best chance of avoiding osteoporosis, you should consider quitting smoking, as smoking is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and limiting your alcohol intake to no more than 14 units of alcohol a week.

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