October 20th World Osteoporosis Day

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Osteoporosis is a serious and oftentimes debilitating disease. Fortunately, there are many preventative measures that can be taken to strengthen bones and prevent fractures.

Professor Heike Bischoff-Ferrari, director Centre on Aging and Mobility at the University of Zurich/Waid City Hospital states that for good bone heath, “First, you must ensure sufficient vitamin D intake. Secondly, your diet should include adequate amounts of calcium and protein. Finally, you should make sure that you’re doing daily weight-bearing and muscle strengthening exercise.” For these to be effective, all are required in combination.

The International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) also released a 24-page report promoting the three-step strategy for health bones and strong muscles, which can be found for free here.

The report raises the critical issue of falls and fall-related fractures in seniors. In addition, the report also notes:

Adequate calcium and protein intake can best be achieved through a nutritious diet that includes dairy products, nuts, beans and certain calcium-rich greens, fruits and mineral waters. Dairy products offer the greatest amounts of calcium and also provide protein.

Seniors with decreased protein intake are more vulnerable to muscle weakness, sarcopenia and frailty – all contributing to an increased risk of falling and fracture.

Vitamin D is produced in the skin upon exposure to sunlight. Food sources of vitamin D are rather limited, with small amounts found primarily in fatty fish and eggs. As evidenced by the high rates of vitamin D deficiency around the world, most people cannot achieve adequate levels of vitamin D from sunlight. The reasons include: little sunshine in the winter months at latitudes above and below 33°, cloud cover and air pollution, use of sunscreens, wearing clothing that covers most of the body, and the general trend towards indoor lifestyles in both young and old.

Skin production of vitamin D declines with age, leaving seniors with a four-times lower capacity to produce vitamin D compared to younger adults. In seniors vitamin D supplementation has been found to reduce the risk of falls and fractures by about 20%. IOF recommends vitamin D levels of 800 to 1000 IU/daily for all people at risk and for everyone aged 60 and older.

Daily physical activity is absolutely essential for bones and muscles strength at all ages. The most effective exercises are weight-bearing activities such as running, climbing stairs, jumping or brisk walking, as well as muscle-strengthening exercises such as weight-lifting.

Weight-bearing exercise programmes that improve gait speed, muscle strength and balance in seniors can translate into a 25-50% reduction in falls.

Smoking, excessive alcohol and being underweight (body mass index below 19) have been shown to have a negative impact on bone health.

For more information about World Osteoporosis Day, visit www.worldosteoporosisday.org.