5 lifestyle changes for better bone health

Many researches and studies indicate that bone fractures resulting from osteoporosis are dangerous to human health, often becoming exhausting and stressful for the patient.

Dr Mark Schickendantz, Associate Professor of Surgery with the Cleveland Clinic College of Medicine explained that Osteoporotic bone fractures are dangerous and often debilitating, and their incidence is expected to rise significantly as global populations age, however, there are several simple steps individuals can take at any age to protect their bone health.

Dr Schickendantz cited a recent study presented by researchers from Hong Kong at last year’s American Society of Bone and Mineral Research Annual Meeting. Dr Schickendantz, who was not involved in the study, explains that the researchers analyzed global data and projected that by 2050, the number of hip fractures worldwide would double compared with 2018 figures.

According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis is already a major non-communicable disease and the most common bone disease, affecting one in three women and one in five men over the age of 50 worldwide.

“The study from Hong Kong researchers highlights the importance of spreading awareness about measures that can help to prevent osteoporosis,” says Dr Schickendantz.

“Although people might think of osteoporosis as an older person’s issue, you are never too young to take steps to protect your future bone health, particularly as these steps help to prevent other lifestyle diseases as well. It is also important to remember that there are other risk factors aside from age and that osteoporosis is often only discovered when it is too late – for example, after a painful bone fracture,” he added.

There are five simple steps that can help to prevent osteoporosis, Dr Schickendantz says.

Step 1. Exercise regularly

A sedentary lifestyle is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis, says Dr Schickendantz. He recommends individuals do high-impact weight-bearing exercises, which are excellent for building bones. He defines weight-bearing exercise as any activity that forces people to move against gravity, or gives resistance as they move, for example, walking, dancing, jogging, and stair climbing. He recommends aiming for 150 minutes per week but stresses that these activities should be limited if an individual has already been diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis.

If individuals suffer from lower extremity joint deficiencies such as knee or hip arthritis, Dr Schickendantz says, they can do strength-training exercises that focus on resistance training. However, it is important to seek the advice of a healthcare provider before starting a rigorous strength training program, he cautions.

Step 2. Eat a bone-healthy diet

Calcium’s role in maintaining strong, healthy bones is well established, and it is best to try to get calcium from dietary sources, says Dr Schickendantz. Examples of foods rich in calcium include salmon with bones, sardines, kale, broccoli, calcium-fortified juices and bread, dried figs, and dairy products.

If someone does need supplementary calcium, it is important to note that the body can only absorb 500 mg of calcium at a time, so it is best to take doses divided accordingly, he says.

Dr Schickendantz adds that vitamin C also plays an important role in the production of collagen in the bone matrix. Vegetables are a good source of vitamin C, and green and yellow vegetables have also been shown in studies to help with bone mineralization, he says.

Step 3. Check vitamin D levels

According to Dr Schickendantz, most adults need 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily to help absorb the calcium they need for strong bones. Limited sun exposure, whether as a result of inclement weather or health concerns, is a common cause of vitamin D deficiency, he says. Other causes include having dark skin, being elderly or suffering from obesity.

Dr Schickendantz says a physician will be able to check an individual’s vitamin D levels through a simple blood test, and then be able to advise on supplementation.

Step 4. Reduce risk levels

Tobacco use and the excessive consumption of coffee and alcohol should be avoided as these are all linked to loss of bone mineral density.

Step 5. Be aware of individual risk factors

Those at higher risk for osteoporosis include people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes; people with conditions that affect nutrient absorption such as inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease or have had bariatric surgery; people who are over the age of 65, and post-menopausal women, among others.

If an individual believes they are at risk, a quick and painless bone density scan can detect osteoporosis, and a healthcare provider might prescribe medication to help manage the condition, says Dr Schickendantz.

“Osteoporosis normally has no symptoms and is often discovered only after a painful fracture, when the bones have already weakened. It is important, therefore, to follow a healthcare provider’s advice on screening. Some indications that a person has osteoporosis include loss of height, change in posture, shortness of breath due to a smaller lung capacity from compressed disks, bone fractures and pain in the lower back,” Dr Schickendantz concludes.

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