Osteoporosis is a condition that affects the bones, causing them to become weak and fragile and more likely to break (fracture). These fractures most commonly occur in the spine, wrist and hips but can affect other bones such as the arm or pelvis.
Bone is made of a hard outer shell with a mesh of collagen (tough elastic fibers), minerals (including calcium), blood vessels and bone marrow inside. This mesh looks a bit like a honeycomb, with spaces between the different parts. Healthy bones are very dense, and the spaces inside the bones are small. In bone affected by osteoporosis, the spaces are larger, and this makes the bones weaker, less elastic and more likely to break
Bone is a living tissue that is constantly repairing itself. There are cells which break down old bone (osteoclasts) and cells which build new bone (osteoblasts). This process requires a range of proteins and minerals, which are absorbed from the bloodstream.
Lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise can influence how healthy your bones are. Following a healthy lifestyle throughout your life is the best way to delay the onset of osteoporosis and slow the rate at which your bones become fragile.
Regular exercise is essential. Adults should do at least 2 hours and one half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (cycling or fast walking) every week. Regular exercise is particularly important in improving bone density and preventing osteoporosis.
If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you should begin with less rigorous exercises like brisk walking, swimming, cycling or a game of tennis.
Exercises, such as running, skipping, dancing, and aerobics, and even jumping up and down in place, are all useful ways to strengthen your muscles, ligaments and joints. When exercising, wear footwear that provides your ankles and feet with adequate support.
Resistance exercises are especially good for building bone density, where the action of the tendons pulling on the bones boosts bone strength. Examples include push-ups, weight lifting or using weight equipment at a gym. If you have recently joined a gym make sure that the gym instructor shows you how to use all the equipment and gives you some recommended exercises.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is recommended for everyone. Good diet can prevent many diseases, including osteoporosis.
Calcium is very important for maintaining strong bones. The recommended intake of calcium is at least 700mg a day, however the best calcium comes from foods, especially green leafy vegetables. Most people had adequate calcium, in fact many people have too much.
Also necessary to bone healthy is vitamin D. A short exposure to sunlight, without sunscreen (10-15 minutes twice a day) throughout the summer should provide you with enough vitamin D for the whole year. However, bear in mind that the darker the skin, the longer you have to be in the sun to make the necessary amount of vitamin D.
Certain groups of people may be at risk of not getting enough vitamin D. These include people who may be housebound or particularly frail, people with a poor diet, people who keep covered up in the sunshine because they wear total sun block or adhere to a certain dress code, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. We have been sold short on the sun causing cancer theory, however early morning and late afternoon are perhaps the best time to soak up some sun.
If you are at risk of not getting enough vitamin D through your diet or lifestyle, you can take a vitamin D supplement. For adults, 10 micrograms a day of vitamin D is recommended. The recommended amount for children is, 7 micrograms for babies under six months, and 8.5 micrograms for children aged six months to three years.
Other lifestyle factors that can help prevent osteoporosis include:
Quitting smoking: cigarette smoking is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis.
Limiting your alcohol intake: no more than three drinks for men and two for women.
Proper breathing exercises are a major factor in increasing bone density and preventing osteoporosis. (See Breathing Exercises)
Eating sugar and even worse, eating any sugar substitutes like high-fructose corn syrup and aspartame can greatly increase the likelihood of osteoporosis.
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