How best to protect your bones

 

Appropriate weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises help improve bone density.

BY JIM HOWE

Our bodies are always breaking down old bone and rebuilding new. Changes in this process can cause problems in later adulthood, but an Upstate expert says there are ways to help keep bones healthy.

Karen Kemmis

“Bone is constantly remodeling. We get new bone laid down, and some goes away, and unfortunately, as the years go on, more goes away than is being laid down,” says Karen Kemmis, a doctor of physical therapy at Upstate.

“You need calcium and vitamin D to get bone laid down, and what happens over the years is that the thickness of the bone tends to decrease at a microscopic level, and so the whole structure of the bone gets weaker,” she says.

People can develop a condition called osteopenia as their bones thin, or the more serious osteoporosis, in which bones become fragile and can fracture easily. Both conditions can lead to decreased height, stooped posture and pain.

Gender, age, diet, body size, race and family history are all risk factors for osteoporosis. About 80 percent of the people with osteoporosis are women, mostly those past menopause. Both genders are at fairly high risk by the time they reach their 80s.

The foundation of good bones is usually built before adolescence, Kemmis says, noting that “osteoporosis is a pediatric problem with geriatric consequences.”

10 protective steps that promote bone health in adulthood:

  1. Know your risk of fractures. The American College of Rheumatology offers an online assessment at www.rheumatology.org.
  2. Measure your height annually. A loss of more than 1½ inches could indicate vertebral fractures, which are often silent.
  3. Estimate your calcium intake, and increase food/fluid sources and supplements as needed.
  4. Know your vitamin D levels, which can be learned from a blood test. Take in more if needed.
  5. Discuss medications with your health care provider.
  6. Improve bone density by performing appropriate weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises.
  7. Check your posture and do exercises to decrease strain on the spine; also, use proper body mechanics through the day.
  8. Prevent falls: Most osteoporotic fractures are the direct result of a fall.
  9. Assess and improve your balance.
  10. Move safely: Avoid positions that increase the risk of spine fractures, especially flexing (rounding) the spine. Activities such as yoga, Pilates and golf have benefits but may need to be modified.This article appears in the spring 2017 issue of Upstate Health magazine. Hear a radio interview/podcast in which Kemmis talks about achieving good bone health.
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