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Osteoporosis: 5 keys to a healthy life

Two African American women in exercise clothes, walking down a street, holding water bottles.

Putting your bone health first doesn't mean putting yourself on the shelf.

Knowing you have osteoporosis might make you feel fragile. But there are plenty of strong moves you can make to help slow down bone loss, prevent falls and live a full, active life.

Here are five of the best ways to do that, according to the Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation and other experts:

1. Explore medicine with your doctor. Most people with osteoporosis take medicine to help slow bone loss and prevent fractures. The most common medicines are bisphosphonates, available as pills, shots or IVs. Other options include synthetic hormones (like calcitonin or teriparatide) or medicines that mimic the effects of estrogen (like raloxifene).

If you're concerned about side effects, talk with your doctor. They can help you weigh the pros and cons and choose the best medicine for you, taking into account your sex, age, overall health and how much bone you've lost.

2. Eat better for bone health. A balanced diet that's rich in calcium, vitamin D and other bone-building nutrients can help prevent further bone loss.

Low-fat milk, cheese and other dairy products are super sources of calcium. But if you don't do dairy, you can get calcium from other foods, such as:

  • Green, leafy veggies, like broccoli, spinach and bok choy.
  • Canned salmon and sardines with bones.
  • Fortified juices, cereals and breads.

Few foods naturally have vitamin D, but it's in many fortified foods (including milk). And you can find it in fatty fish, like trout, salmon, tuna and mackerel, as well as in fish liver oils.

And you can add other bone-building nutrients—like magnesium, potassium and vitamin C—to your plate by eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

It's usually best to get your nutrients from food. But if you're concerned you're not getting enough from diet alone, ask your doctor if a supplement might be right for you.

3. Stay active. Having osteoporosis shouldn't limit your ability to get around. In fact, weight-bearing exercises—such as dancing, walking, climbing stairs and lifting weights—can help strengthen your bones. And balance exercises—like yoga and tai chi—can help you avoid a fall that might break a bone.

Movements that might suddenly jar or strain your bones may be risky. So ask your doctor what specific activities are OK for you.

4. Fend off falls. Taking steps to avoid falls is crucial for anyone with osteoporosis. Around the house, try to:

  • Keep floors clutter-free, and secure cords and cables out of walkways.
  • Make sure rooms are well-lit, and keep a flashlight near your bed.
  • Use nonslip rubber mats in showers and tubs. Install grab bars if needed.
  • Remove or tack down rugs to the floor. Make sure they have nonslip backs.
  • Wear low-heeled shoes around the house, not socks or slippers.

And when you're outdoors:

  • Wear rubber-soled shoes.
  • Avoid slick sidewalks in icy weather. Walk on grass instead or put down salt.
  • Use a cane or walker if your doctor recommends it.

5. Beware of bad habits. If you smoke, here's one more reason to stop: Lighting up can rob your body of bone-building calcium. Alcohol also carries risks. Drinking may make you more vulnerable to bone loss and dangerous falls. If it's hard to stop either habit, ask your doctor for help.

Ready to make a quit plan? Try these tips to help you give up smoking for good.

Reviewed 2/7/2023

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