Building better bones

This past week, we celebrated National Osteoporosis Awareness Week in the Philippines, first proclaimed in 1998 by then President Joseph Estrada for every second week of the month to be dedicated to raising awareness for this condition. World Osteoporosis Day is also celebrated every year on 20 October.

As people are living longer, the cases of osteoporosis around the world are increasing.  Right now, one fracture due to osteoporosis occurs every three seconds.  After 50 years of age, one in three women and one in five men will suffer a fracture in their remaining lifetime. Having a fracture can lead to complications and even death.

Use a cane while walking for balance.

Osteoporosis means “porous bone,” or that the bones are weaker and more prone to fracture because they have lost some of their mineral content.  You cannot feel your bones becoming weaker, however, so it is called a “silent disease.”  Sadly, some only discover that they have osteoporosis after they have already suffered a fracture.

Osteoporosis should be suspected if a fracture occurs easily and with minimal force, like from tripping accidentally and falling from a standing height.  While falls are the most common cause, fractures can also be caused by milder forms of trauma — bending over, sudden twisting of the torso or even just forceful coughing.

Risk factors for osteoporosis include advancing age, but it is not a given that all older persons  will develop osteoporosis. This can occur in younger persons as well. Other risk factors are being Asian or Caucasian, a family history of osteoporosis, being underweight, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, lack of exercise and a diet low in calcium and vitamin D, which are essential nutrients for building strong bones. Some endocrine or hormone problems can also lead to osteoporosis.

A simple bone mineral density test can help check if you are at risk and if you need treatment.

The best way to build up our bones actually begins in childhood. With proper nutrition and exercise, children develop sturdier bones and can get their bones to be as strong as they can be by their early 20s.  As we age, our bones slowly weaken, but the stronger our bones in our youth, the less likely it is to develop osteoporosis in the future.

Weight bearing exercise, such as walking and jogging, is essential in building strong bones, even in the later years. Aim to exercise three to five days a week for 30 minutes each day.  But always do these activities with caution if you are not used to exercising, and take care to not fall. Because if you don’t fall, you’re less likely to fracture.

Some ways to avoid falls include:

  • Use a cane while walking for balance.
  • Install grab bars in your bathroom, by the toilet and in the shower.
  • Watch out for slippery surfaces and look where you are stepping, especially on stairs and sidewalks.
  • Turn on the lights if you get up at night to use the bathroom.
  • Have your vision checked and wear your eyeglasses if you need them.
  • Do not have scattered small items, loose rugs and electrical wires that can cause you to trip.
  • Be careful around pets that you might trip over or who can jump on you and cause you to fall.

If you are over 50 years old, suspect that you might be at risk for osteoporosis or that you may already have osteoporosis, talk to your doctor.  A simple bone mineral density test can help check if you are at risk and if you need treatment.

The Osteoporosis Society of the Philippines Foundation Inc., in partnership with the International Osteoporosis Foundation and the International Society for Clinical Densitometry, invites the public to learn more about osteoporosis at the Bone Densitometry Course on 23 to 24 October at the Marco Polo Ortigas Manila, Pasig City. Visit the OSPFI Facebook page @OsteoporosisPhilippines for details.

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