As we get older, it’s inevitable that our bodies begin to fail in various ways, sometimes in minor ways, sometimes major. Paying special attention to our health — by eating the right foods, getting enough exercise, and avoiding bad living habits — can result in healthier, longer lives. But there are no guarantees, and we can easily be surprised and fall prey to a condition when we least expect it.
Osteoporosis is a widespread condition; up to 28 million Americans either have it or are at risk of contracting it. The disease affects our bone structure, causing bones to become more porous and brittle.
Throughout our lives, our bone cells continuously undergo a process of renovation, as old bone tissue is broken down and new bone tissue grows to replace it. Osteoporosis is an imbalance in this regular cycle, in which insufficient amounts of new bone structure are grown to replace the bone that has broken down. This loss of bone strength can have serious consequences; bones will break more easily, and a simple fall can cause hip fracture or worse.
Women account for 80 percent of osteoporosis sufferers. Various factors may determine whether you are more at risk. Women who go through menopause early are at greater risk; after menopause, bone tissue is broken down faster than it is replaced. Statistics have shown that Caucasian and Asian women are at greater risk than women of African background, although people of any “race” or ethnicity can contract the condition. Osteoporosis is at least partially hereditary, so check your family history. Certain medications accelerate bone loss, including steroids, thyroid hormones, seizure medications, and some antacids. Smoking, caffeine, and alcohol can all have detrimental effects on bone formation. Many of these same risk factors apply to men. Additionally, for men, low levels of testosterone can contribute to bone loss.
There are certain measures you can take to lower your risk. Calcium and Vitamin D are both crucial in maintain your bone health, so ensure that you get adequate amounts of each. And regular exercise can also help you maintain bone strength. Consult with your doctor, or a physical therapist, to determine which exercises for seniors are most appropriate for you. You don’t necessarily need to join a gym and embark on a full-fledged work-out regime (although that might not be a bad idea). There are many exercises to do at home that can be effective in lessening your risk.
Osteoporosis can strike anyone regardless of precautions you might take, and it’s often difficult to detect until the condition is already quite developed. If you believe you are at risk, it may be worth getting a scan that measures bone density. A bone density test uses a series of X-rays to determine how many grams of calcium and other minerals are present in a section of bone. Most commonly, bone density tests are done on hips, forearms, and the spine.
Ultimately, whether we contract osteoporosis or not is out of our hands. However, there are steps we can take to lower our risk.