Understanding osteoporosis

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Approximately 54 million Americans have low bone density or osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to weaken and become more likely to break. Most people may not know they have osteoporosis until they have a sudden fall that causes a wrist or hip fracture.

You are more likely to develop osteoporosis if you have a family history. Caucasians, Asians, individuals with low body weight and post-menopausal women are also considered to be at risk. Certain lifestyle factors such as low calcium intake, lack of physical activity, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking cigarettes and high caffeine intake can also increase the risk for osteoporosis.

One of the best strategies for preventing osteoporosis is to live a healthy lifestyle with a calcium rich diet and regular exercise. When you exercise, you increase the force placed on the bone and it adapts by building more bone, making them more dense and stronger. Weight bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, dancing, low-impact aerobics, jumping rope, stair climbing, tennis and gardening work directly on the bones in your legs, hips and lower spine to slow mineral loss. They also provide cardiovascular benefits, which boost heart and circulatory system health. Another benefit of exercise is that it improves balance and coordination. This becomes especially important as we get older because it helps to prevent falls and the broken bones that may result.

Understanding your individual risk for osteoporosis, such as genetic factors and family history, is essential. Talk to your doctor about your risk and if you qualify for a bone density exam. A bone density exam measures how much calcium and other types of minerals are in an area of your bone. The test helps your physician diagnose bone loss and osteoporosis and predict your risk for bone fractures.