Let's start with the basics. Osteoporosis is a progressive loss of bone that can eventually lead to fractures, pain, and disfigurement. When I was a social worker I had a few clients with this disease and I still remember their suffering. One woman sneezed and broke her arm. Another was hunched over, and was in a lot of pain. Ladies, this is NOT a disease we want to get!
So how can you prevent it? Through nutrition and exercise. Both should start at a very young age. If you are a parent or grandparent with girls in the family, make sure they are getting enough calcium, vitamin D, and activity. These will help to lay a base of bone that they can carry into adulthood. Most females reach their peak bone mass level at age 17 or 18.
From the age of 18 on, all you can do is work to keep what you've got. Again, adequate calcium, vitamin D, and exercise will help. Calcium is found in all dairy products as well as leafy green vegetables, beans, nuts, and fortified products. If you hate dairy foods or cannot tolerate them, try almond milk or soy instead. You need calcium because it is a major building block in your bone.
Vitamin D is trickier. Our body produces it when we are exposed to sunlight. However, if you use sunscreen (and you really should) or live in a colder climate (like Ohio) then chances are good that you are not getting enough sunlight for this process to occur. What's more, the only really good food sources of vitamin D are fatty fishes such as tuna and salmon. It is also found in egg yolks. Since we tend to eat less of these foods, you might want to consider a supplement for this nutrient. Vitamin D is important because it helps calcium to be absorbed and used by the body.
Exercise is your final defense against osteoporosis. Weight-bearing cardiovascular activities such as walking, jogging, dancing, and jumping rope all place a load on your bone. This causes it to rebuild and maintain itself. If you are extremely slender and small-boned, you may have to add a weighted vest to reap the benefits of these activities. Lifting weights has also been shown to help maintain your bones.
Did you know that 80% of people with osteoporosis are women? The reason for this is we statistically have smaller skeletons than men. We also use different hormones to protect our bone mass. In our case the hormone is estrogen and it begins to decrease in our bodies in our 40's. By the mid-50's most women have gone through menopause and have very low estrogen levels. This time period (the first 5 years of menopause) is when we lose the greatest amount of bone mass in our lives.
Men use testosterone to protect their bones and their levels stay relatively high well into their 70's. Most men get osteoporosis because of other factors such as alcoholism, smoking, or long-term steroid use.
Osteoporosis is a silent disease. You usually don't know you have it until your first bone fractures. Why put yourself through such pain? Exercise and eat to prevent this health problem!!