Seniors | Diet, exercise help to avert osteoporosis

Imagine coughing and cracking a rib. Or slipping on an area rug and breaking a hip. This is osteoporosis, a debilitating disease that makes bones fragile and prone to fractures.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, half of women over age 50 and a quarter of men will experience a fracture due to osteoporosis. The disease strikes women and men of all ages and races.

But the news is promising: not only is osteoporosis preventable, it may possibly be reversed. With early detection, strength training and weight-bearing exercise combined with a healthy diet and medical treatment, you can remain fit, healthy and whole at any age.

The first step is early detection. Consult with your physician and assess your risk factors to see if you should have a bone mineral density (BMD) screening. The Mayo Clinic recommends talking with your doctor if you went through menopause early, took corticosteroids for several months at a time or have a family history of hip fractures. Other risk factors include age, gender, small body frame, and ethnicity. Asians, Caucasians, Latinos and Ashkenazi Jews are at increased risk for the disease.

In general, people who exercise have stronger bones than those who don’t. Exercise can strengthen bones and supporting muscles, and also improve balance — which in turn can help prevent falls. To be effective and to prevent injuries, it’s important that you select the appropriate exercises and do them correctly. For example, strength training should focus on muscles around bones at greatest risk for fracture: the hip, vertebrae and wrist. Free weights, weight machines, resistance bands and group workouts like TRX can be used for strength training.

Small muscle exercises focus on stability, spinal support, and posture.  The most common mistake that women make is not lifting weights that are heavy enough to achieve the muscle and bone adaptation needed to prevent the disease.

Cardiovascular workouts, such as water aerobics, biking and swimming, are beneficial as well, but should be supplemented with strength training to maintain bone mineral density.

Weight-bearing exercise is also important to fight osteoporosis.  Options include walking, running, dancing, and land-based aerobics.

When beginning any exercise program, supervision by a qualified trainer or physical therapist is recommended for safety, appropriate weight progressions and healthy movement patterns.

A bone-healthy diet is one rich in calcium and vitamin D. According to, women over age 50 should take 1,200 mg. of calcium daily, and men between the ages of 51 and 70 should consume 1,000 mg. of calcium a day; for men over 70, the figure is 1,200 mg.

Calcium-rich foods include:

• Sardines, salmon, soybeans, tofu and nuts such as almonds;

• Dairy products such as low-fat milk, cottage cheese and yogurt;

• Dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, bok choy and collard greens;

• Fortified foods such as orange juice.

Vitamin D works hand-in-hand with calcium because it helps your body to absorb it. Exposure to sunlight triggers your body to make vitamin D, and older adults often don’t spend enough time outdoors to make enough of this essential vitamin. Between the ages of 51 and 70, people should consume at least 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D, which can be found in foods such as liver, eggs, herring, sardines, salmon, tuna and fortified milk. People over age 70 should consume at least 800 IUs daily.

Follow a healthy diet, refrain from smoking and excessive drinking, and begin a strength training and weight-bearing exercise program. Taking these steps today will help prevent this crippling condition and keep you healthy, mobile and strong for years to come.

Kim Knapp
is a personal trainer at the Peninsula JCC in Foster City. She is certified through the National Council on Strength and Fitness, and specializes in osteoporosis prevention and strength training for women and seniors.