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Osteoporosis is a condition that can sneak up on you. You may not know your bones are weak until you suddenly break a bone and struggle to recover. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), “About nine million Americans have osteoporosis and an estimated 48 million have low bone density. This means that nearly 60 percent of adults age 50 and older are at risk of breaking a bone and should be concerned about their bone health.”

Women over the age of 50 have the highest risk of getting osteoporosis, and after menopause that risk increases. The NOF says, “A woman’s risk of breaking a hip due to osteoporosis is equal to her risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer combined.” While this is just downright unfair, the fact remains that women need to do all they can to strengthen their bones throughout life.

And men—you are not immune to this disease. The NOF points out that “a man age 50 or older is more likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis than he is to get prostate cancer.” Anyone over the age of 50 and with a family history of osteoporosis is at a high risk for contracting the disease.

So, knowing these risk factors, we can assume that many of us are at risk of developing osteoporosis as we age. And with the way osteoporosis silently sneaks up on people, this can be a scary thought. The purpose of National Bone and Joint Health Awareness Week, October 12-20, is to make us aware of this disease and help us do as much as possible to strengthen our bones—and our bodies—no matter our age.

Let’s focus on some simple things the NOF says we can do to have stronger bones:

Get Enough Calcium and Vitamin D

These are the two most important nutrients for bone health.

Calcium: Your body doesn’t produce calcium—it all comes from what you eat. Women over age 50 and men over age 71 should get 1200 mg. of calcium each day (from food and supplements). Dairy products are your best source of calcium: low-fat and non-fat milk, yogurt, cheese. Calcium is found in some green vegetables and other foods, but many other foods have been fortified with calcium, foods like cereal, soy milk, juice, etc. Check the labels of the foods you eat and look for the daily recommended amount of calcium.

Vitamin D: Your bones need vitamin D in order to absorb calcium. Women and men over age 50 should get 800-1000 international units of vitamin D daily (from sunlight, food and supplements). You can get vitamin D from sunlight, absorbed into your skin, but in order to avoid the risk of skin cancer from sun exposure, most people turn to food and supplements for vitamin D. Fatty, wild-caught fish, like mackerel, salmon and tuna, is the best source of vitamin D, but not many other foods contain it naturally. Look for foods that are fortified with vitamin D.

Eat a Well-balanced Diet

Eat more fruits and vegetables. Enough said! (The power of a healthy, balanced diet reaches far beyond bone health.) Be aware that protein, salt, wheat bran and beans can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb calcium or even cause your body to lose calcium. Eat healthy portions of these foods and monitor how much calcium you are getting. Increase your calcium intake if necessary.

Limit Caffeine and Alcohol

Too much of either of these will cause your body to lose calcium. Set a 2-3 drink limit per day when it comes to alcoholic beverages, and limit coffee to no more than three cups a day. Research is still being done on whether or not caffeinated soft drinks (sodas or colas) pose a serious risk to calcium loss and bone health, but be aware that too much caffeine in any form can affect the calcium level in your body.

Be Active

Exercise daily—even if it’s only for a short period of time each day. Do a range of activities that target your muscles and bones. Weight-bearing exercise is necessary for strengthening bones. Check with your doctor and, depending on the current condition of your bones, choose weight-bearing exercises that work for you. Some good high-impact activities are hiking, dancing, jogging, aerobics or jumping rope. Some low-impact options are lighter aerobics, elliptical or stair-step machines, or walking.

This simple diet and exercise advice can help strengthen your bones and improve your overall health. We may not be able to avoid some of the risks of osteoporosis—our bones are going to age no matter what we do. But with so many of us at risk of getting osteoporosis as we age, it is important to take as many measures as we can to keep our bones as strong as possible for as long as possible.