Recently my chiropractor threw me a bombshell. Because I have low body weight there’s increased risk of osteoporosis. Why? Because more body mass means more muscles putting stress on bones which in turn improves bone density.
The Dieticians of Canada website is a little more specific. If you’re less than 125 lbs or weigh at least 10 lbs less than you did at age 25, you may have a higher chance for developing osteoporosis.
While my chiropractor was definitely not advising me to put on 20 kilos, he did recommend resistance training to increase muscle mass.
Dr. Nese Yuksel, professor in the University of Alberta’s pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences faculty, refined this advice even further.
“Do strength training,” she recommends. “It helps maintain strong bones and reduces bone loss. This helps with balance and preventing falls.”
Osteoporosis means bones become thinner and less dense, making them more fragile and prone to break or fracture. While it affects both sexes, it’s more frequent among women, with Health Canada putting the rate for people over 50 at about one in four for women and one in eight for men.
And many of us will have no warning.
“A lot of people don’t know they have bone loss, which is why it’s called a silent disease,” says Dr. Yuksel, who also sits on the executive committee of Osteoporosis Canada.
So while there are often no signs of osteoporosis until a fragility fracture occurs – those that happen from the equivalent of a fall from a standing position – there are ways to protect your bones and delay or minimize osteoporosis.
Include calcium in your diet.
Calcium helps builds bones, and as we age our body doesn't absorb calcium as well. So calcium rich foods and possibly a calcium supplement are vital. Osteoporosis Canada recommends 1200 mg of elemental calcium per day for people over 50.
“That dosage is from both diet and supplements, and you should be getting as much from diet as possible,” advises Yuksel.
She encourages checking the Osteoporosis Canada website, which has calcium information and a calcium calculator to find out the amount of calcium in what you’re eating.
Get enough Vitamin D.
Calcium and Vitamin D help prevent muscle wasting, which lowers the risk of falls and fractures. Not only is calcium less easily absorbed by the body without vitamin D, as we age the skin’s capacity to synthesize vitamin D decreases as does the kidney’s capacity to convert vitamin D to its active form.
The recommendation for people aged 51 to 70 is 600 IU of vitamin D per day. Over 70, it increases to 800 IU per day, for men and women.
“Most of us need a supplement,” says Yuksel. “For both calcium and Vitamin D, the recommendation is based on trying to get as much from diet as possible, and then adding supplements.”
Do the right exercises.
Exercise is imperative for preventing falls, as it helps protect the spine, slows the rate of bone loss and builds muscle strength.
“If somebody has osteoarthritis for example, and they fall, they are likely going to break something, so we want to prevent those fractures,” says Yuksel.
She recommends a combination of weight bearing exercises and strength training for maintaining muscle mass, noting that even walking makes bones stronger.
Osteoporosis Canada’s Too Fit to Fall or Fracture recommends four types of exercise to prevent falls:
- Strength training at least 2 days per week, using body weight against gravity such as bands or weights
- Balance exercises every day, such as tai chi, dancing or walking on your toes or heels
- Posture exercises every day, by gently tuck your chin in, drawing your chest up slightly and spreading your collarbones without pulling your shoulders back
- Aerobic activity, at least 150 minutes per week
If you have a spine fracture, consult a physical therapist or kinesiologist before using weights and choose moderate non-vigorous aerobic activities.
Anyone over the age of 65 should automatically get an assessment for bone density and risk factors for osteoporosis, stresses Dr. Yuksel.
And people over 50 with risk factors – such as a past fragility fracture, a high alcohol intake or smoking habit, a family history of hip fractures or being on certain medications – should get a bone density assessment.
Also, certain over-the-counter and prescribed medications increase the risk of falls. Yuksel advises people with higher bone-loss risk to talk with their physician or a pharmacist before taking any medication.