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The bare bones: What women need to know about osteoporosis

One of the biggest threats to quality of life for people over 50 is osteoporosis, a condition defined by reduced bone density that makes bones more brittle and leads to frequent fractures, often from relatively minor falls or even everyday activities. The problem is related to ageing, but affects women disproportionately, and as such is a major area of concern in women’s health.

Worldwide, 1 in 5 men and 1 in 3 women over 50 will suffer broken bones related to osteoporosis. The condition is twice as likely to affect women overall, and often surfaces during or after menopause, when lower levels of estrogen can lead to rapid loss of bone density.

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As a woman, there are a number of steps that you can take to preserve and even build bone density as you age, but it’s important not to wait until you suffer a fracture to act. Our bones usually reach maximum density around age 20, and after 30, it’s normal that we all experience gradual bone loss. Osteoporosis is a more dramatic weakening of the bones to the point where they can break very easily.

In fact, the most common way that osteoporosis is diagnosed is after a fracture. By then, it’s not exactly too late, but you can improve your chances of remaining pain-free and active well into your golden years by taking steps when you’re younger to prevent or slow bone loss and avoid osteoporosis for as long as possible.

The first step is to know your level of risk. The following factors may make you more prone to develop osteoporosis:

  • If you are very thin or have a petite frame
  • If you have a family history of osteoporosis
  • If you smoke, or drink heavily
  • If you take certain medications like corticosteroids for extended periods
  • If you suffer from certain other conditions like hyperthyroidism
  • If you don’t get enough calcium or vitamin D
  • If you have your ovaries removed

If you’re under 45 and you think that you may be at risk, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about it, and they may make suggest lifestyle changes to promote healthy bones. These may include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Drinking less
  • Taking calcium supplements if you don’t think you’re getting enough from your diet
  • Getting more sunlight, or possibly taking vitamin D supplements
  • Getting active with a program that includes weight bearing exercises. (We all know that exercise strengthens our muscles, but it strengthens our bones too.)

The sooner you’re able to implement even some of these changes, the more it can help you later in life. The sad fact is that many women do nothing to safeguard their bone health until after they break a bone, often after the age of 60.

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