We’ve all heard about osteoporosis, and maybe even thought — “I’m not at risk for that!” — but think again. Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones and can result in painful fractures. It is often called the “silent disease,” because bone loss occurs without symptoms.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation reports that 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and another 44 million are at risk for developing the disease. One in two women and one in eight men over 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. These fractures, most often in the hip, forearm, wrist and spine are typically caused by falls. Osteoporosis can weaken bones to the point that a break can occur easily, even without a fall.

Believe it or not, a woman’s risk of suffering from an osteoporosis-related hip fracture is equal to her risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer combined. Nearly one-quarter of patients age 50 and older who suffer a hip fracture will die within a year following the fracture, as reported by the NOF.

The good news is that osteoporosis can be prevented for most people. No matter your age, the recipe for bone health is simple for both men and women:

• Get enough calcium and vitamin D.

• Exercise regularly.

• Make healthy lifestyle choices

• Talk to your health-care provider about your bone health.

The following are key action steps to take toward reducing your risk:

1. Eat a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Why vitamin D, too? Vitamin D and calcium are a team that work together to mineralize, or harden, the bones. The recommended daily calcium and vitamin D intakes for men and women are:

• Ages 19-50: 1,000 milligrams calcium and 600 international units (IU) vitamin D.

• Ages 51-70: 1,200 milligrams calcium for women (or 1,000 milligrams calcium for men) and 600 IU vitamin D.

• Age 71 and older: 1,200 milligrams calcium and 800 IU vitamin D.

Of course, dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese are an excellent source of calcium. Some other high-calcium food sources include spinach, broccoli, greens (collard, turnip), sardines or salmon canned with the bones, and there are a variety of calcium-fortified food sources available. Also check the label for “calcium-fortified” when buying orange juice, grape juice, cereals and rice. Plant-based beverages, like soy, almond and oat beverages, are also usually fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

Some specific ideas to boost your calcium intake include:

• Make a smoothie blending low-fat- or nonfat-milk or yogurt, or a soy beverage, with frozen fruit for a quick breakfast or snack.

• Add chopped spinach, or other dark greens, to soups, stir-fry dishes and salads.

• Use nonfat or low-fat milk instead of water in soups, hot cereals, pancake mixes, scrambled eggs and other recipes.

• Add dry powdered milk to foods. It works well in hot creamy foods like mashed potatoes and hot cereals. One tablespoon of powdered milk provides 50 milligrams calcium.

• Grate low-fat cheese over salads, baked potatoes, and broccoli, or add a slice of low-fat cheese to your sandwiches.

Food sources are the best way to obtain your required dietary calcium. If you are lactose intolerant or not able to regularly consume the dietary recommendation, then you may benefit from a calcium or vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D is obtained from sun exposure, a few foods, and supplements. Talk to your physician to find out if a supplement would be right for you.

2. Get adequate weight-bearing exercise. This type of exercise forces you to work against gravity, helping to build and maintain bone mass. It includes walking, jogging, hiking, aerobic dance, racquet sports, resistance training and stair climbing. Working on balance and flexibility also helps prevent falls and fractures.

3. Make healthy lifestyle choices. Avoid smoking. Use moderation with alcoholic beverages as they also can lead to bone loss.

4. Talk to your health-care provider about your bone health. Ask about bone-density testing to check for osteopenia or osteoporosis. If needed, there are some medications to help slow down bone loss. Also, ask about calcium and vitamin D supplements if needs are not being met through the foods you eat.

To learn much more about the topic of osteoporosis and how to prevent and manage it, join Penn State Extension’s Healthy Bones, Happy Life: An Osteoporosis Education Program. This three-part webinar series will educate participants about the disease, risk factors, and reducing their risk through a variety of lifestyle changes. This workshop will give participants a strong foundation for preventing, managing and improving bone health for those at risk or diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis. Learn how to decrease your risk of this “silent disease.” The dates of the series are Tuesdays, Feb. 16 and 23, and March 2, from noon to 1:15 p.m. To register, go to https://extension.psu.edu/healthy-bones-happy-life-an-osteoporosis-education-program.

For more information about osteoporosis, visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation website at http://www.nof.org

Katherine French is a Penn State Extension educator in Mercer County.

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