It’s a fact of life: As you age, your bones become thinner and lose their density. Over time, you become more prone to injury.
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Fortunately, you can take steps to halt the “thinning” of your bones, called osteopenia, and prevent osteoporosis. Start with the tips below from Cleveland Clinic experts.
1. Eat calcium-rich foods
In addition to dairy products, choose fish with bones such as salmon, sardines or whitebait. For additional benefits, serve them with a side of dark leafy green vegetables or broccoli. Almonds, dried figs, fortified tofu and soy milk are also calcium-rich choices, says registered dietitian Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD.
2. Take calcium supplements
The U.S. recommended daily allowance for calcium is 1,000 mg a day during your 20s, 30s and 40s. But your need rises as you age. Check with your doctor before starting supplements to find out what amount is right for you. For example, after menopause, most women need 1000 to 1,500 mg a day unless they take hormone therapy. Your body only absorbs 500 mg of calcium at a time, Ms. Jeffers notes, so spread your consumption out over the course of the day.
3. Add D to your day
To help absorb calcium, most adults need 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily, says Andrea Sikon, MD, Chair of Internal Medicine and staff member in the Center for Specialized Women’s Health. Combined calcium-vitamin D pills usually do not meet this requirement. And most of us who live north of Atlanta do not get enough vitamin D the old-fashioned way — from the sun. Taking a vitamin D supplement will ensure you meet your daily needs.
4. Start weight-bearing exercises
To boost your bone strength, try exercise that “loads” or compresses your bones, says exercise physiologist Heather Nettle, MA. “Running, jogging, high-impact aerobics, repetitive stair climbing, dancing, tennis and basketball are best for building bones. But if you have osteopenia, osteoporosis or arthritis, try walking or using an elliptical or other machine,” she says. Be sure to clear any exercise plans with your doctor first.
5. Don’t smoke, and don’t drink excessively
Bad news for bad habits: Loss of bone mineral density is associated with tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption, Dr. Sikon says. If you smoke, look into a program to help you quit. If you drink, stick to no more than one libation a day, she advises.
6. Get your bone mineral density tested
Doctors can get a quick and painless “snapshot” of bone health using a simple X-ray test called DXA. This test measures bone mineral density and helps determine risks of osteoporosis and fracture. Dr. Sikon recommends testing for women within two years of menopause. Earlier tests are recommended for men and women with certain diseases and for those taking medications that increase risk, such as long-term steroid therapy.
7. Consider medication
Perimenopausal women may consider hormone therapy to increase waning estrogen levels, which are linked to bone loss. And women and men diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis can take various medications to prevent dangerous hip and spine fractures. Talk to your doctor about options such as bisphosphonates, teriparatide or denosumab. And remember, “None of these medications works without calcium and vitamin D as building blocks,” Dr. Sikon says.