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Osteoporosis (whatever your age)

Acting sooner rather than later can make a world of different to your skeletal structure and its subsequent longevity.

Osteoporosis might not be the sexiest topic in the fitness industry, but is a pretty important one. An estimated 3 million + people in the UK and 44 million people + in the USA are affected by the disease.

'Osteoporosis' - literally porous bone - is where the density and quality of bone becomes weaker and brittle, so falls or even a mild stress like coughing or bending may cause a fracture. In extreme cases, the condition can even be fatal.

Here are 10 things you may not know, but should know about osteoporosis:

1 You need to start thinking about osteoporosis from your mid 20s

You can positively improve your bone density with exercise and a good diet. Your bone density is usually at its peak in your 20s, then starts deteriorating from around the age of 40. For women the weakening process is usually accelerated after the menopause.

2. Early symptoms hard to detect

Osteoporosis is often referred to as a ‘silent disease’ as most people don’t know they have it until they get their first fracture. Earlier symptoms can include receding gums; decreased grip strength; brittle fingernails; cramps, muscle aches and bone pain; height loss and low overall fitness.

3. Regular exercise is critical

Bones are living tissues that get stronger when you use them. Weight-bearing with impact and muscle strengthening exercises help posture, balance, strength, flexibility, energy levels and mobility. All of these will help to strengthen core stability and muscles and reduce the risk of falls/fractures.

4. Exercises to be avoided

Flexion (sit ups/crunches) and rotation of the spine (Russian twists, golf, tennis) are high risk for people with weak joints and bones. Also avoid high impact movements such as tuck jumps, pike jumps, running, or exercises which are likely to result in falling or unpredictable movement patterns such as ski-ing, ice-skating, mountain-biking).

5. Good nutrition is fundamental

If you enjoy a healthy, balanced diet, you should be getting everything you need in terms of calcium, vitamin D and other crucial vitamins and minerals. It’s best to get your calcium from food sources, such as low-fat dairy, leafy green vegetables, canned sardines, salmon, and foods with added calcium. Vitamin supplements can also be taken if you feel you have a deficit in your diet but should not be necessary.

6. Osteoporosis affects men too.

1/3 women and 1/5 men suffer with the condition. For men, bone density reduction tends to occur later at 75 years old rather than 65 years old for women.

7. Risk factor

Age, weight, diet, family history, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, sedentary lifestyle, early menopause, excessive exercise and ethnicity can all have an impact on your likelihood to develop osteoporosis.

Also people with specific medical conditions such as coeliac disease, thyroid problems, eating disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney or liver disease, cancer, Lupus, multiple myeloma, and rheumatoid arthritis are higher risk.

8. You need to spend time outdoors.

Just 10–15 minutes a day in sunlight will enable your body to produce vital vitamin D for strengthening bones. Always ensure you protect your skin with SPF sunscreen though. Vitamin D is crucial for absorbing calcium in your diet.

9. There are tools out there to help

If you have concerns, ask your GP about fracture risk assessment and diagnosis. They can use an online programme, such as FRAX or Q-Fracture. These tools help to predict a person’s risk of fracture between the ages of 40 and 90. The algorithms used give a 10-year probability of hip fracture and a 10-year probability of a major fracture in the spine, hip, shoulder or forearm. You may also be referred for a DEXA (DXA) scan to measure your bone mineral density. This compares your bone mineral density to a healthy young adult who is the same age and sex as you.

10. It’s never too late to take action

Bone constantly repairs itself and rebuilds. Research has shown that people who are diagnosed with osteoporosis can rebuild and strengthen their bones enough to put them back into the ostepenia (lower bone density), the stage before osteoporosis.

It can be a shock to be given a diagnosis of osteoporosis, but the prognosis can be improved by taking positive action through good nutrition, vitamin supplements and a sensible level of exercise. Given the endless list of other associated physical and mental benefits of making healthier choices, surely its a no-brainer to look after your bones too.


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