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Posted 02 November 2017

Staying strong: how to keep bones healthy

You may never have heard of osteoporosis – a condition where the bones weaken, making them fragile and more likely to break – but with 3 million people in the UK affected, it’s worth being aware. Even if you’re not at risk, keeping your bones strong is vital to your health and your ability to stay active. In this Love Life for LV= Life Insurance article, experts share their advice on how to recognise the symptoms of osteoporosis, keep your bones healthy and support those who are affected.

  • Stay active, get plenty of calcium and vitamin D

  • How to get involved with World Osteoporosis Day

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones lose their strength and are more likely to break, usually following a minor bump or fall. Osteoporosis causes debilitating fractures that make everyday tasks such as getting dressed and moving around difficult.

Who is most at risk?

According to the National Osteoporosis Society charity (@OsteoporosisSoc), or NOS, factors that increase a person’s risk include:

  • Genes: if a parent broke bones easily, it could be a sign
  • Age: as we get older, bones become more fragile
  • Ethnicity: people of Afro-Caribbean origin are at a lower risk
  • Gender: women are more at risk than men
  • Having a low body mass index (BMI)
  • Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
  • Having other medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Taking certain medicines, including anti-epileptic medication and some cancer drugs

Although osteoporosis is more common in elderly people, bones generally start losing their density and strength around the age of 35 – those who are at the most risk are people whose bones lose their density quickly.

Those over the age of 50 have the highest chance of being affected by osteoporosis. According to NOS, one in two women and one in five men in this age category will break a bone due to osteoporosis.

There are also extra factors that could increase the risk of osteoporosis in women, such reaching menopause or a hysterectomy before the age of 45, and overexercising or dieting causing absent periods.

What activities can keep bones healthy?

NOS recommends the following for all ages:

  • Get plenty of calcium from foods such as milk, sardines, green leafy vegetables, almonds, dried fruit and tofu. Most people shouldn’t need to take supplements, but consult your doctor if you are concerned.
  • Get enough vitamin D, which enables the body to absorb calcium and store it in the bones. Sunlight is the best natural source, so go outdoors for at least 10 minutes each day. Foods high in vitamin D include oily fish, eggs and fortified cereals – such as Special K, Corn Flakes and Raisin Bran.
  • Keep active. Any exercise that supports the weight of your body – for example jogging, aerobics, tennis, dancing or brisk walking – is recommended. Even gardening and golf can help.

On the other hand, unhealthy levels of eating or alcohol consumption, long periods of inactivity and eating disorders can also increase your risk

What are the warning signs?

‘If you’re over 50 and have broken a bone, you should check for osteoporosis,’ says Sarah Leyland, osteoporosis nurse specialist at NOS. ‘Ignoring the signs – such as a wrist fracture, or a broken bone from a minor bump – puts you at risk of further painful fractures.

‘You might want to ask your doctor about having a fracture risk assessment to determine whether a drug treatment is required.’

What can I do if I already have osteoporosis?

NOS offers the following advice:

  • Find out as much as you can by contacting the free NOS helpline on 0808 800 0035, or talking to your doctor
  • If you’re taking several medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist to review them, as some can cause unsteadiness
  • Shoes with a patterned tread are less slippery. Also avoid loose, backless and high-heeled footwear
  • Don’t wear long, trailing clothes
  • Drink plenty of water – dehydration increases the risk of falling
  • Avoid falls at home by fitting hand rails, avoiding mats and other trip hazards, and checking stair carpets are secure

‘Fear of falling can mean some people avoid activities and go out less, which can affect their confidence, independence and overall quality of life,’ adds Sarah. ‘Just keeping active throughout the day can not only keep your bones strong, but also improve your sense of well-being, lift your mood and reduce pain caused by muscle tension.’

What support is available?

While not all the risk factors can be controlled, there are things you can do to help prevent osteoporosis, such as staying active and maintaining a healthy diet. Plus, it’s good to know that there are people and organisations you can turn to if you’re worried about bone health or are supporting a family member with the condition.

As well as NOS, the NHS have some useful resources on osteoporosis, while Arthritis Research UK can also provide information and support. The International Osteoporosis Foundation, meanwhile, are also researching the condition.

Events, campaigns, publications and scientific meetings are taking place for World Osteoporosis Day on 20 October 2017. The event is organised by NOS, who support people living with osteoporosis, promote good bone health and fund research into the condition.

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