Q: What can I do to keep my bones strong as I get older?
A: For generations, women have dealt with osteoporosis—a condition in which the bones become less dense and more likely to fracture. It’s often called the “silent disease” because you may not have symptoms until you break a bone, typically in the hip, spine, or wrist, or you discover that you’ve lost an inch or two in height.
But today’s women no longer have to accept osteoporosis as a fact of life as they get older. There are ways to prevent weakened bones in later life, slow your rate of bone loss, and rebuild bone to prevent fractures.
To keep bones strong, the body is always breaking down old bone and replacing it with new tissue. As we age, more bone is broken down than is replaced, and the risk of osteoporosis increases, especially for women around the time of menopause.
Getting enough calcium throughout life helps to build and keep strong bones. People over age 50 should get 1200 mg of calcium daily. To do this, eat calcium-rich foods, such as low-fat dairy foods, canned fish with soft bones like salmon, dark green leafy vegetables, and calcium-fortified foods like orange juice, breads, and cereals.
You may need to take a daily calcium supplement with Vitamin D. Your body uses vitamin D to absorb calcium. Being in the sun for 20 minutes every day helps most people’s bodies make enough vitamin D. You can also get vitamin D from eggs, fatty fish, and cereal and milk fortified with vitamin D.
Exercise makes bones and muscles stronger and helps prevent bone loss. Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging, playing tennis, and dancing, three to four times a week, are best for preventing osteoporosis.
Talk to your doctor if you have a family history of osteoporosis or other factors that may increase your risk for the disease. A safe, painless, bone mineral density test known as a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, or DEXA scan, can determine your risk for osteoporosis.
In addition to exercise and calcium supplements, your healthcare provider may prescribe medications that you take once a week or month to help rebuild the strength of your bones.
Monica L. Gefter, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, is now accepting new patients at Academic Internal Medicine, located in Erlanger Medical Mall, 979 East Third Street, Suite B-601, Chattanooga, TN 37403. Dr. Gefter, who is fluent in Spanish, German, and Russian, is also an Associate Professor of Medicine at the UT College of Medicine Chattanooga. To make an appointment, call 423-778-8179.