Bone Health: How to Prevent Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis occurs when bones become less dense, lose strength, and break more easily. It can affect both men and women, however the large majority of cases are women, particularly after menopause.

Bone is living tissue that needs exercise to gain strength, similar to muscle. We reach peak bone mass by about 25-30 years of age. Our sex hormones have a crucial role in maintaining bone strength. As women go through menopause, the function of their ovaries diminishes. This means they are not producing as much oestrogen as they used to. Oestrogen is very important for bone health, and the drop in oestrogen after menopause results in accelerated bone loss. The average woman can lose up to 10% of her total body bone mass during the first five years after menopause.

Osteoporosis predisposes those affected to an increased risk of fractures, which can be very debilitating and affect your quality of life. Compression fractures in the spine can lead to loss of height, pain, and changes in posture.

How to monitor your bone health

The best way to monitor your bone density is with a DEXA scan- which stands for a dual-energy absorptiometry scan. It is a low level x-ray which measures the density of your bones, usually in the hip and lower back. 

The results of your DEXA scan will give you a T score. This tells you whether you have normal bone density, osteoporosis, or osteopenia. Osteopenia is a condition where the bones are fragile and less dense, but not to the same extent as osteoporosis. 

Risk factors for osteoporosis

  • Insufficient dietary calcium
  • Low vitamin D levels
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol intake of more than two standard drinks per day
  • Caffeine intake of more than three cups of coffee or equivalent per day
  • Inadequate physical activity levels
  • Early menopause (before the age of 45)
  • Long term use of medications such as corticosteroids

How to prevent osteoporosis

Calcium-rich diet

  • An adequate intake of calcium is crucial in maintaining healthy bones and preserving your bone density
  • Post menopausal women are recommended to have 1,300mg of calcium per day.
  • Calcium supplements may be recommended if you are unable to get enough calcium from your diet alone (for example if you can’t tolerate dairy)

Vitamin D

  • Vitamin D is important for bone density as it helps your body absorb the calcium in your diet
  • We obtain most of vitamin D from the sun
  • Vitamin D can also be found in small quantities in foods such as salmon, eggs and margarine

Lifestyle changes

  • Stop smoking if you are a smoker
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption – no more than two standard drinks per day and have at least two alcohol-free days per week
  • Limit caffeine intake as excessive caffeine can affect the amount of calcium that our body absorbs- drink no more than two to three cups per day of coffee, tea, or cola
  • These lifestyle habits are best started younger in life to get the most benefit

Exercise

  • Weight bearing exercise improves bone density as well as balance which reduces the risk of falls
  • Recommended exercise includes brisk walking, jogging, tennis or dance
  • High impact exercise such as jumping and rope skipping should also be included if appropriate for you
  • Strength training is also very important- a physiotherapist can design an exercise program that is individually tailored to your needs and abilities
  • Aim for 30-40mins of exercise, 4 to 6 times a week

Addressing all these factors while you are young is extremely important. Once you are osteopenic or osteoporotic, there is no going back. This is why it is so crucial to be mindful of your bone health before it’s too late. Women nearing menopause or those who have recently gone through menopause should have a bone density scan and be aware of the lifestyle changes you may need to make to preserve your bone density. 

If you have any further questions about your bone health or would like to speak to a Physiotherapist about what exercise they should be doing, give us a call on 9875 3760 or email info@wphphysio.com.au.

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