Balance and Strength
Reduce the risk of osteoporosis with exercise and diet
Written by Melissa Bean Sterzick
Bone loss is part of the process of aging, but osteoporosis and dangerous bone fractures are not inevitable. Though there is no cure for osteoporosis, early identification of high-risk patients, lifestyle choices and treatments can all reduce risk and severity.
Age is the number one risk factor for osteoporosis. Women, especially women who are postmenopausal, are at higher risk. Men also develop osteoporosis. Other factors pointing to osteoporosis are a family history of the condition or of hip fracture. Smoking, excess alcohol consumption, excess caffeine consumption and lack of exercise can affect bone health negatively.
Dr. Dilrukshie Cooray is a Torrance Memorial Physician Network rheumatologist. Rheumatologists specialize in treating musculoskeletal diseases such as osteoporosis.
She says age and family history cannot be changed, but individuals have control over their fitness, posture, coordination and stamina – all of which contribute to preserving one’s physical abilities as they age.
Regular exercise is a must.
“Weight-bearing exercise for at least 30 minutes, three times per week is recommended,” Dr. Cooray says. “In randomized and prospective studies, exercise reduced the occurrence of overall fractures in older patients.”
Exercises such as walking, jogging and tennis encourage the body to form more bone. Weight training improves muscle strength and flexibility and reduces the likelihood of falling.
“Improving balance and strength leads to fewer falls,” Dr. Cooray says. “Falls are among the most common causes of injury among older adults. And one quarter of falls lead to serious injury among older adults.”
Dr. Cooray recommends patients see a physical therapist to learn targeted exercises. Group activities such as Tai chi, dance and chair yoga, are good for the bones, social life and mental health.
“It is important to preserve strength and balance as you age. It’s something to work on every day,” Dr. Cooray says. “Falls can lead to fear of falling, thereby limiting usual activities, which can lead to the loss of independence and increases the need to live in a nursing home.”
A diet balanced in calories from healthy food groups – lean protein, whole grains, fiber, fruits and vegetables supports bone health. Optimum amounts of calcium and Vitamin D are also important. Though it’s best to get these nutrients from food, supplements are also beneficial.
Other strategies for decreasing the risk of osteoporosis are quitting smoking, limiting alcohol and staying at a healthy weight.
There are no early signs of osteoporosis. Dr. Anshu Buttan, a Torrance Memorial Physician Network endocrinologist, says age-related and health-history related recommendations are in place because osteoporosis must be treated well before any symptoms appear.
“Loss of height in inches is a sign spinal bones are already compressed. The recommendation is to get screened even when you don’t have symptoms, because oftentimes when you’ve been screened, it’s because you’ve already broken something,” he says.
Healthy choices and timely testing and treatment are essential for maintaining bone health.
For anyone with known risk factors beyond age, testing and treatment should begin after menopause for women and at age 70 for men. Regardless of risk factors, all women over 65 and men over 70 should seek testing for osteoporosis.
“There is no cure for osteoporosis. However, bone density may be improved with the appropriate medication treatments and lifestyle modifications that help protect and strengthen bones,” Dr. Cooray says. “It is important to realize they work hand in hand, and one does not take the place of the other.”