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It is very important to keep our bones healthy throughout our lives. The skeleton is a living tissue which needs to be nourished and exercised to keep it strong. Like other parts of the body it has to be protected from disease. This web page provides advice on how to keep bones strong and healthy as we get older.
This information is endorsed by the National Osteoporosis Society.
Bones are alive and constantly changing, with new bone being made and old bone lost throughout our lives. In adults, the entire skeleton is completely replaced every seven to ten years. Bones continue to grow in strength until the age of about 35, when old bone starts to be lost at a faster rate than new bone can be formed to replace it.
In some men and women this bone loss is so severe that their bones become weak, fragile and liable to break very easily. This condition is known as osteoporosis. Fortunately, we can take measures to reduce the risk of developing this disease, enabling us to maintain strong bones through to old age.
One in two women and one in five men over 50 will experience a broken bone, mainly as a result of osteoporosis. The most common bones to break are bones in the hip, spine or wrist. Women are particularly at risk because, during and after the menopause they experience rapid bone loss as the ovaries stop producing the female hormone oestrogen.
As well as being very painful, coping with a broken bone can make independent living difficult and may cause long-term problems with mobility. With approximately three million people living with osteoporosis in the UK alone, it is now a serious health problem.
But whatever your age, there are some simple measures you can take to prevent yourself from experiencing broken bones.
As you get older, you are more likely to have a fall, so it is important to take a look at your home to make it as safe as possible. Some simple, practical steps you could take include:
For more information on improving strength and balance, and reducing the risk of falling, see the Age UK free advice leaflet Staying Steady.
A healthy, balanced diet is needed to supply the body with energy, essential nutrients and fibre. An adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D is important to maintain bone health, particularly as you grow older. Try to include the following foods in your daily diet:
As you get older, your body is less efficient at absorbing calcium. Experts recommend that older people have an intake of 700 mg of calcium and between 400 and 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day. A third of a pint of milk contains 225mg of calcium and a 5oz pot of yoghurt has 240mg.
Vitamin D is needed for calcium to be properly absorbed. Even in the UK climate, most people gain sufficient vitamin D by being outside for part of the day in summer (sunshine is a natural source of vitamin D), or from their diet. However, if you have a limited diet or are not able to get out, you may need calcium and vitamin D supplements. Ask your doctor or practice nurse if you are not sure whether you are getting enough of these essential nutrients.
Men: No more that 3-4 units in a day and no more than 21 units in one week.
Women: No more than 2-3 units in a day and no more than 14 units a week.
If you are worried that you may have fragile bones (for example if you have fallen over recently and broken a bone, or you have noticed that you are losing height and developing a stoop), talk to your doctor. Your doctor will be able to assess whether you are at risk of developing, or have, osteoporosis. If you already have fragile bones, your doctor will be able to advise you on suitable treatments which will prevent further bone loss.
National Osteoporosis Society
Camerton, Bath, BA2 0PJ
Tel: 01761 471771
Helpline: 0845 130 3076
The National Osteoporosis Society is a charity set up to improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of this disabling disease. The Society provides advice and information on all aspects of osteoporosis through its medical helpline and information booklets, as well as offering people with osteoporosis support through its network of local groups. .
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