Senior Living: How to prevent weakened bones

Q. What are steps I can take to prevent or treat osteoporosis?

A. There are things you should do at any age to prevent weakened bones. Eating foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D is important. So is including regular weight-bearing exercise in your lifestyle. These are the best ways to keep your bones strong and healthy.

Getting enough calcium all through your life helps to build and keep strong bones. People over age 50 need 1200 mg of calcium every day. Foods that are high in calcium are the best source. For example, eat low-fat dairy foods, canned fish with soft bones such as salmon, and dark-green leafy vegetables. Check the labels on foods like orange juice, breads and cereals to find those with calcium added.

If you think you aren't getting enough calcium in your diet, check with your doctor first. He or she may tell you to try a calcium supplement. Calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are two common forms. You have to be careful, though. Too much calcium can cause problems for some people. On most days, you should not get more than 2500 mg of total calcium. That includes calcium from all sources — foods, drinks and supplements.

Your body uses vitamin D to absorb calcium. Most people's bodies are able to make enough vitamin D if they are out in the sun without sunscreen for 10 to 15 minutes at least twice a week. You can also get vitamin D from eggs, fatty fish, and cereal and milk fortified with vitamin D. If you think you are not getting enough vitamin D, check with your doctor. Each day you should have:

• 400 IU (International Units) if you are age 51 to 70.

• 600 IU if you are over age 70.

As with calcium, be careful. More than 2000 IU of vitamin D each day may cause side effects.

Your bones and muscles will be stronger if you are physically active. Weight-bearing exercises, done three to four times a week, are best for preventing osteoporosis. Walking, jogging, playing tennis and dancing are examples of weight-bearing exercises. Try some strengthening and balance exercises too. They may help you avoid falls, which could cause a broken bone.

Some common medicines can make bones weaker. These include a type of steroid drug called glucocorticoids used for arthritis and asthma, some antiseizure drugs, certain sleeping pills, treatments for endometriosis and some cancer drugs. An overactive thyroid gland or using too much thyroid hormone for an underactive thyroid can also be a problem. If you are taking these medicines, talk to your doctor about what you can do to help protect your bones.

Treating osteoporosis means stopping the bone loss and rebuilding bone to prevent breaks. Diet and exercise can help make your bones stronger. But they may not be enough if you have lost a lot of bone density. There are also several medicines to think about. Some will slow your bone loss, and others can help rebuild bone. Talk with your doctor to see if one of these might work for you.

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, e-mail it to or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.

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