This June marks National Osteoporosis month in the U.K which provides an opportunity to discuss bone health and raise awareness of both risk factors and treatment with the aim of preventing weak bones and breakages by promoting the importance of building bone strength throughout life.
So what is osteoporosis? It is a disease of the bone that weakens the bones strength; you cannot feel osteoporosis progressing and you may not know you have it until you experience a bone breakage.
There are several risk factors including a family history of osteoporosis, a Body Mass Index of below 19, women who have experienced early menopause, taking steroid based medications for more than 3 months, low vitamin D and/or calcium levels. Smoking and alcohol can also increase your risk of developing osteoporosis as the toxins in cigarettes and alcohol can stop your body taking in the minerals necessary for building strong bones (vitamin D and calcium for example).
There are some medical conditions that can also increase your risk of osteoporosis, including type 1 diabetes, HIV, Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease, kidney failure, and rheumatoid arthritis.
All of this sounds very bleak doesn’t it?
Well there are some really simple ways of reducing your risk and helping to increase bone density.
30 minutes of weight bearing exercise, five times per week can help to increase bone strength. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be slogging it out down the gym five times a week. Weight bearing exercise can include brisk walking, yoga, even Tai Chi. If you are wanting to increase your exercise levels, it is important to find something that you enjoy doing. This will mean that you will be more likely to keep doing it in the longer term.
Food and diet are also of great value in reducing your risk. Of particular importance is your intake of vitamin D and calcium. Stransky and Rysava (2009) looked at lots of other studies investigating the relationship between osteoporosis and diet and found that both calcium and vitamin D supplementation lowered the risk of bone fracture by 24% and significantly reduces the loss of bone mass.
If you would like to know more about how to lower your risk through your diet, head over to the British Dietetic Association where they have more information.
The suggestions for reducing your risk of osteoporosis are meant to be longer term lifestyle behaviours that build bone strength over time. In the same way you save throughout your entire working life for a pension for when you retire, these behaviours build up bone strength and durability over time in order for your bones to be protected later on in life. Although it is never too late to begin, for example, Balsky et al (1988) found an increase in bone mineral content in older, post-menopausal women after 22 months of weight bearing exercise.
These risk lowering suggestions are both easy to adopt and have a range of other physical/mental health benefits. So why wait?