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Arthritis Today

Osteoporosis Self Care

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Taking a proactive part in osteoporosis treatment is important. The keys to preventing osteoporosis are building strong bone as early in life as possible to help reduce bone loss. Ways to improve health include getting more exercise, eating a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D and reducing unhealthy habits like smoking or excessive drinking.

Get the proper amount of calcium and vitamin D. Calcium intake is essential to prevent bone loss. It's also important to many body processes. It helps the heart beat, the blood clot and the muscles contract and relax. How much calcium a person needs depends on gender, age and risk for osteoporosis. The best source of calcium is from foods such as dairy products, black-eyed peas and salmon. Non-dairy products made with soy and almonds also include calcium. Women and men age 19 to 49 and pregnant or breast-feeding women need 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day. Individuals taking corticosteroids, postmenopausal women who aren’t taking estrogen supplements and women and men age 50 and older need 1,200 mg per day. Those who cannot eat dairy or calcium-enriched foods might choose calcium supplements. Talk to a doctor about which supplement is best. Vitamin D increases the amount of calcium the body absorbs from foods. Skin cells make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Some people can get enough vitamin D by exposing the face, arms and hands to midday sunlight for 10 to 15 minutes two or three days a week. Other good sources of vitamin D include liver, fish oil, vitamin D fortified milk and other foods and supplements. (Look for vitamin D3, which is the active form of the nutrient.) Talk to a doctor about the level that’s most beneficial.

Don’t smoke. People who smoke have a greater risk of fracture than nonsmokers and take a longer time to heal. Women who smoke often produce less estrogen and tend to experience menopause earlier, which may lead to increased bone loss. Calcium absorption is also reduced in smokers.

Drink alcohol in moderation. People who drink large amounts of alcohol have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. They have less bone mass and lose bone more quickly because of alcohol’s effect on bone. Drinking may also increase the chance of falling and breaking a bone. Experts recommend drinking no more than two alcoholic beverages per day. One alcoholic drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1½ ounces of liquor.

Stay active. Exercises or other physical activities that strengthen bones can help maintain bone mass. Weight-bearing and resistance exercises are especially beneficial. Flexibility and balance exercises help to protect against falls and reduce fracture risk. To gain the health benefits of exercise, do weight-bearing and resistive exercise for 30 minutes daily, five days a week. It's okay to exercise 10 or 15 minutes at a time then take a break and later finish. Check with a doctor before starting an exercise program.

Research supplements. While calcium and vitamin D are critical for optimal bone health, there are other vitamins and minerals that also play important roles. These include Vitamins C and K as well as the minerals boron, magnesium, manganese and potassium.

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