3 ways you can protect yourself against osteoporosis

Written by
Helen West

Osteoporosis can strike at any age. 

It's a disease that causes bones to become weak and brittle. This makes you more susceptible to fractures and breaks.

We all lose bone as we get older. Osteoporosis is more common in women than men, as they lose bone rapidly in the first few years after the menopause.

Text reads women can lose up to 20% of their bone density in the five to seven years after the menopause

In fact, women can lose up to 20% of their bone density in the five to seven years after the menopause. Men lose bone more slowly, but that doesn't mean they can't develop osteoporosis. It affects over 3 million people in the UK.

There's not a lot you can do about your sex or - unfortunately! - your age. But there are things you can do everyday to help protect yourself against osteoporosis.

Get regular exercise

Regular exercise can make a huge difference. Specifically, weight-bearing exercises and resistance exercises. 

Weight-bearing exercises include running, skipping, dancing, and aerobics. These are exercises where your feet and legs support your weight. They help strengthen your muscles, ligaments, and joints.

If you're new to exercise or find it difficult, brisk walking or keep-fit classes might be more appropriate weight-beating exercises. Exercises like swimming and cycling aren't weight-bearing exercises, but they still provide a good aerobic workout.

Stock image of a group of people lifting arm weights

Resistance exercises are important for building and maintaining your bone density. They involve moving your body or a weight against gravity.

Resistance exercises use your muscle strength. Press-ups, weightlifting, and using weight equipment at a gym all count as resistance exercises. 

Make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet

Eating a healthy diet is important for everyone. But if it's your bones you're worried about, you need to make sure you're getting enough calcium and vitamin D.

Calcium is vital for strong bones and a lack of it leads to conditions like rickets. Good sources of calcium include milk and cheese, but it can also be found in leafy green vegetables, dried fruit, tofu, and yoghurt.

Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium your body. It can be found in oily fish like salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel. Red meat, liver, and egg yolks are also high in vitamin D.

The NHS recommends that adults take a daily vitamin D supplement, particularly if you're likely to be deficient. Which brings us on to our next point...

Get some sun!

Your body creates vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. But if you don't tend to get a lot of sun - either because you prefer to be covered up or because you don't spend much time outdoors - you might not get enough.

It's also difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone. For this reason, the NHS recommends that you take a vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter. And if you spend most of your time indoors, you should take a supplement all year around.

Image of a snowy village in winter

Vitamin D is vital for bone strength. But it can be tough to get enough vitamin D from sunlight during the darker winter months.

Osteoporosis is diagnosed based on the results of a bone density scan (a DEXA or DXA scan). The scan is painless and only takes a few minutes.

The above steps can help improve your bone density even after you've been diagnosed with osteoporosis. You can read about Judi Paxton's experiences of being diagnosed with osteoporosis and beating the condition through diet and exercise on the NHS website.

Read more: 5 simple exercises you can do sitting down

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