Lifestyles

Osteoporosis — 'the silent thief'

Make no bones about it, you are more likely to break a bone from osteoporosis than you are to have a heart attack, stroke or be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Kim Hamilton is back to "break it" down for us and give great tips on how to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis. Kim is an Osteofit fitness instructor with Courtenay Recreation and works with many individuals 55 years and older.

Did you know bone is living tissue, constantly being absorbed and replaced throughout life? Osteoporosis occurs when the creation of new bone doesn't keep up with the removal of old bone, resulting in loss of bone density, a condition that affects one in four women and one in eight men over the age of 50.

Bone loss is a normal part of aging, however in osteoporosis this leads to increased bone fragility and risk of fracture particularly of the hip, spine and wrist.

Here's the good news, osteoporosis is a condition that is both preventable and treatable if caught in time. The bad news is there is a reason the disease is referred to as "the silent thief," as bone loss occurs without pain or symptoms.

There is no single cause of osteoporosis but genetic predisposition can explain 60 to 80 per cent of a person's bone mass.

In addition to age, there are a number of risk factors that increase the probability of developing osteoporosis, including; medical conditions such as celiac or kidney disease, following a diet low in calcium or vitamin D, early menopause (before age 45), low body weight, smoking or having an inactive lifestyle.

We know we need things like calcium, vitamin D and weight bearing exercise to maintain or improve bone health, but where to begin? Do I need a calcium pill if I have milk in my cereal and cream in my coffee? Does it really matter what exercises I do, as long as I am moving?

If you have some of the risk factors listed above, speak with your physician about scheduling a Bone Density Test to estimate the risk of osteoporotic fracture and create a plan best for you.

Nutrition is a key element of health. Experts suggest the best way to get the daily requirement of 1,200 mg of calcium for those over the age of 50 is through a balanced diet and, if necessary supplements. Explore the Canada Food Guide at www.hc-sc.gc.ca to find good sources of calcium in food.

Vitamin D helps build stronger bones by increasing the absorption of calcium. In addition it also improves the function of muscles, which in turn improves balance, decreasing the likelihood of falling.

Known as the sunshine vitamin, after 50 we need 400-1000 IU daily. For questions about vitamin/mineral supplements or to find additional resources, visit the B.C. Health Link website at www.healthlinkBC.ca.

Thirty per cent of those over age 65 fall at least once a year, and half of those individuals fall recurrently.  Regular balance and strength training can help modify this risk factor.

Participate in specific fitness programs like Osteofit, developed with the BC Women's Hospital Osteoporosis Program and led by trained instructors. For the next class, call Courtenay Recreation 250-338-1000.

If you have osteoporosis, don't waste time worrying about it. Use the many resources available to find the answers you need to reduce risk of fracture and may improve bone mass.

That is food for positive thought!

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Thursday.

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