Osteoporosis affects both genders

AGING MATTERS

Although osteoporosis is traditionally thought of as a woman’s disease, it affects both men and women and begins years, often decades, before the first visible sign — which is often a fractured bone.

Because of this long period of unnoticed changes in the bones, it is often called a silent disease.

What is osteoporosis?

Bone is a living tissue. Until about age 30, bone density grows. After age 30, the goal is to maintain as much of that density as possible.

When viewed at a close range, bone looks a bit like a sea sponge. With osteoporosis, the blank spaces within the bone increase and the bone structure becomes thinner. Check out some great visuals of healthy bones vs. bones with osteoporosis by searching the internet for “healthy vs. osteoporosis bone images.”

What are common risk factors?

Osteoporosis affects people of all ages and genders. However, like all chronic conditions, certain characteristics increase the risk of developing osteoporosis.

These risk factors include the following: Caucasian or Asian female, advancing age, broken bones after age 50, family history of osteoporosis or broken bones, early menopause for women, extended physical inactivity, smoking, certain medications and a petite body frame.

Talk with your doctor or health care professional if you are concerned about your risk factors. She or he may recommend testing for bone density, weight-bearing exercise, physical therapy, dietary changes or medications.

What can I do? Participate in regular weight-bearing exercise. Weight-bearing exercise does not necessarily mean weightlifting at a local gym, though that is one type. It is any exercise that creates pressure or weight on the bones. Walking is an example as are stair climbing, hula or other dancing, hiking and tennis. What weight-bearing exercises do you enjoy?

Consider ways in which you may reduce the amount of sedentary activities as well as increase the amount of sustained exercise. For example, parking farther from a store entrance is a way of reducing sedentary activity. Add to that a regular walk around the neighborhood, a hula class, Latin dance class, or anything that you enjoy that gets you on your feet and breaks a sweat.

Certain exercises are more dangerous for those with an osteoporosis diagnosis. Because osteoporosis often affects the spine, refrain from exercises that require twisting or bending. Before practicing situps, toe reaches, twisting stretches or swinging a golf club or before starting any new exercise program, make sure to talk with your health care professional.

Reduce fall risks. Bone repairs more slowly with age so preventing a fracture is key in reducing the painful effects of osteoporosis. Consider the following strategies that reduce fall risks: regularly test eyesight and hearing and always wear the appropriate glasses and hearing aids; review medication side effects with your pharmacists and if needed, work with your health care professional to find alternatives that have fewer bone-related side effects if available; limit alcohol consumption or other activities that may impact balance and reflexes; properly use assistive devices that provide stability in walking or moving about; opt for shoes that provide stability, even if that means giving up your favorite slippers in the name of safety; and use handrails when walking up and down stairs, even if it is only a step or two.

Make needed changes around the house. More than half of falls each year happen at home. Take a look around to identify simple ways to make your home safer.

Here are a few tips: install (and use) handrails on both sides of the stairs; install good lighting in hallways and stairwells; always turn lights on, even if you plan to just be in a room for a short time; tidy up so there are no obstructions from clutter; get rid of throw or small area rugs; secure carpets firmly to the floor; keep a flashlight by the bed in case the power goes out; choose sofas that are the right height to allow you to easily sit and stand; and use reach sticks to reach high places.

For more information about osteoporosis, visit the National Institute on Aging at www.nia.nih.gov.

* Heather Greenwood Junkermeier is with the University of Hawaii at Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Intergenerational and Aging Programs. “Aging Matters” covers topics of interest to the aging Maui community and appears on the third Sunday of each month.

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