Bone Health: A Family Guide

Don't wait. Now is the time to take action to safeguard yourself and your entire family against osteoporosis.

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Tips for You


Osteoporosis is rarely, if ever, mentioned as a top health concern for women. While doctors encourage you to do monthly breast checks and watch for changes in moles on your skin, there's seldom a discussion about protecting your bones. If anything, perhaps you pop a calcium supplement. And yet, simple lifestyle choices and changes you make today can lower your risk of developing thinning bones and fractures in the future. Same goes for your kids, who acquire about 90% of their bone mass by high school graduation. And don't forget about your parents: Small fixes around their homes can prevent unnecessary falls, which often lead to debilitating bone breaks. Don't wait. Now is the time to take action to safeguard yourself and your entire family.

Lose Belly Fat

Extra weight around your waist may lead to osteoporosis. A recent study conducted by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School found that women who had high amounts of visceral (belly) fat had less bone mineral density than women who did not. "Belly fat appears to produce an inflammatory response, which raises the risk of heart disease and diabetes and can accelerate bone loss," says Felicia Cosman, M.D., clinical director of the National Osteoporosis Foundation. "Maintaining a healthy overall body weight through diet and exercise (particularly activities that target the core like Pilates) is essential."

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Eat More Calcium-Rich Foods


At every age calcium is a must for preventing osteoporosis, and the best way for your body to absorb this mineral is from calcium-rich foods. Adults up to age 50 should consume 1,000 mg a day (1,200 mg after 50).

If you aren't able to meet the daily recommended amount, supplement with 300 mg of calcium citrate twice a day after meals, says Dr. Cosman. Having food in your stomach helps with absorption, and taking two small doses, rather than one big one, decreases the risk of developing kidney stones.

Bone Up on Calcium

1 cup of milk: 300 mg

8 ounces of low-fat yogurt: 415 mg

1.5 ounces of cheddar cheese: 306 mg

1/2 cup cooked spinach: 130 mg

2 ounces almonds: 150 mg

1 cup calcium-fortified cereal: up to 1,000 mg

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Track Your Periods


If you are menstruating less regularly you may have a hormonal imbalance or be entering perimenopause. Low estrogen levels, in particular, can interrupt the body's natural process of bone turnover, whereby the skeleton regularly sheds cells and produces new ones. This may lead to an overall reduction in bone mass. Make an appointment with your gynecologist for a blood test to determine your levels and see if hormone replacement therapy may be necessary.

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Take Vitamin D


In order to absorb calcium, your body needs an adequate amount of D. Most people can't get enough of it from food sources. Ten minutes in the sun provides the proper dose, but if you regularly apply sunscreen—as you should—you'll fall short. The Institute of Medicine recommends 600 IU daily. Look for a supplement with vitamin D3, which appears to be most effectively absorbed.

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Get Moving


Walking at least 30 minutes most days of the week, along with some strengthening exercises, can make your bones stronger. "Yoga stimulates the bones to strengthen themselves and also stretches your joints without injuring them," says Loren Fishman, M.D., assistant clinical professor of rehabilitation medicine at Columbia University School of Medicine and coauthor of Yoga for Osteoporosis (W.W. Norton & Company). Check out the yoga moves on the following slides.

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Daily Yoga Moves


Schedule time for a walk and these three beneficial poses, holding each for 15-30 seconds:

Bridge Pose

Lie on your back and bend your knees with your feet hip-width apart on the ground. Place arms alongside your body, palms up. Inhale and lift your hips and chest off the floor, forming a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Interlace your fingers beneath your raised torso and press down on your arms. Stretch your body from throat through legs. Exhale and relax down.

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Triangle Pose


Stand with arms stretched out to the sides and feet wide apart. Turn right foot 90 degrees to the right. Rotate your left foot 30 degrees inward. Inhale and exhale as you shift your weight to the right. Hinge at the hips, bringing your right hand down to touch the outside of your right ankle. Stretch your left arm toward the ceiling. Turn your head to look up at your left hand and hold. Inhale as you come up to your original standing position. Repeat on the left side.

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Extreme Forward Bend


Sit on the edge of a folded blanket, legs outstretched, toes and kneecaps pointing up, back straight. Think about lifting your spine up from your pelvis. Exhale and reach forward as far as possible holding a stretchy band around your feet (grab the outer edges of your feet if you can), keeping back straight. Breathe smoothly. Release hands and return to starting seated position.

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Tips for Your Kids


Promote Healthy Habits

When kids forgo drinking milk in favor of less healthy choices, three things happen, according to Catherine Gordon, M.D., director of the bone health program at Children's Hospital in Boston. "First, your children miss an opportunity to have a calcium-rich drink, which they probably need to meet the recommended 1,300 mg of calcium a day," says Dr. Gordon. "Second, the phosphates in carbonated drinks may interfere with the skeleton's creation of new cells. Third, the caffeine that's in some drinks can leech calcium from the bone." While you can't control what your kids drink outside your home, you can teach them to make milk a part of their regular diet.

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Discourage Smoking and Use of Alcohol


One of the lesser-known dangers of cigarettes and alcohol is the risk they pose to bones, especially developing ones—the time around puberty is when the body builds the greatest amount of bone mass. In a recent study, when one sibling in a set of identical twins smoked, that twin had a 40% greater risk of experiencing a fracture than the nonsmoking sibling. And alcohol has been found to slow down the body's ability to form new bone cells.

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Encourage Exercise


Being physically active is one of the most effective ways for adolescents to increase bone mass, especially playing sports that involve running and jumping. "Soccer, basketball, volleyball and tennis and other racket sports are great options," says Dr. Gordon. A new study found that the high-impact activity of school-age children can lead to long-lasting bone-building benefits, even when those people stop exercising in adulthood.

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Take Notice of Changes


On the flip side, too much exercise and inadequate intake of necessary vitamins and minerals can put teens at risk for bone loss. Have a talk with your daughter if she suddenly begins an excessive workout routine or changes her eating habits. Parents of boys, especially those on teams with weight classifications, should also keep an eye out for unhealthy behaviors. Males are more likely to take anabolic steroids to build muscle. These drugs are not only illegal, but they also can permanently slow down bone growth. If you suspect your kid is using, call his doctor immediately.

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Tips for Your Parents


Every year one in every three people over age 65 fall, mostly in their homes. Up to 30% of these adults suffer a serious injury, such as a hip fracture, which can make it difficult for them to get around and greatly increase the risk of early death.

Fall-Proof Your Parents' Home

Get rid of loose wires, cords, and throw rugs.

Put regularly used items, like kitchen appliances, in easy-to-access spots to prevent reaching and bending.

Install grab bars on bathroom walls near the toilet and inside the shower and tub.

Place nonskid rubber mats on shower and tub basins.

Tack all carpets to the floor.

Plug in a night-light between the bedroom and bathroom.

Make sure they have a cell phone and encourage them to keep it with them at all times, even when just moving between rooms in their home.

Originally published in the May 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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