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Published on September 19, 2018

3D illustration of bones in the body

Bone Health Is More Than Milk and Exercise

If there are three people in the room with you now, one of you will suffer a broken bone due to osteoporosis in your lifetime.

If you’re older than 60 and you break a hip, the likelihood of death in the three months following your injury is five times higher than someone who did not break a hip.

These facts can be frightening, but there are many steps we all can take to make our bones – and our whole bodies – healthier.

“The future is in your hands when it comes to bone health, and a great place to start is with your family doctor – having a conversation and assessing your possible risk factors,” said Leah Prestbo, MD, Avera Medical Group family physician. “The best steps for overall bone health are to get the calcium and vitamin D your body needs, to avoid tobacco and excessive alcohol use and to exercise regularly. Together those steps give your bones their best chance to be healthy throughout life.”

Aging and Bones

By the time men and women reach age 30, they have built up their bones to their healthiest point. From that juncture, bones can deteriorate without proper nutrition and activity.

Other factors come into play as well. Nicotine, be it from smoking, vaping or other tobacco use, can sap the strength of bones. So too can certain illnesses, including thyroid conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, premature menopause, and other health conditions.

“Family history plays a role as well, and that’s why having that conversation with your medical provider is important,” said Prestbo. “Like many things in health, timing is important. Getting started on a bone-preserving approach, or having a clinical risk assessment or bone-density scan completed can also provide more benefit.”

Too often, after a bone fracture is when people begin to consider their overall bone health. Falls from standing height that result in broken bones are often considered to be a sign of a bone-health issue. Bones of the wrist, spine, ankle and hips should not break from a minor fall, and could indicate an underlying issue.

“There are certain histories and conditions that would lead us to suggest a bone densitometry scan, or DXA, for a patient,” Prestbo said. “DXA is short for dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, and it is a proven test that is safe and helps us to find problems with bone strength.”

Painless Bone Density Facts

Avera recommends annual risk assessment beginning at age 50 for both men and women. This may or may not include DXA, Prestbo said. In some cases, treatments are recommended that can help preserve bone strength with the goal of preventing fractures and providing better outcomes.

“Raising general awareness about the importance of vitamin D and calcium and the importance of building healthy bones throughout our life with proper diet, weight-bearing exercise and avoiding nicotine and excessive alcohol are the best approaches we can take generally,” she said. “For individual patients, the best thing you can do for your bones is to follow those guidelines and begin the conversation about bone health with your doctor. That talk can lead to tests and we can detect – and treat – bone loss before bones break.”

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