May 17, 2022

How to prevent and manage osteoporosis

Caroline Frank
Time Read

May is National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month. So we’ve decided to take this opportunity to share some helpful information and tips with our Medicare Advantage Healthrageous meal members. We explain what osteoporosis is, how to identify risk factors, which preventive measures are available - and for those already diagnosed, how to live their healthiest life with this disease through exercise and healthy eating.

It’s common to think that once we’ve hit a certain age, it’s too late to prevent or improve certain health conditions. We’re here to say it’s never too late! Some conditions, like osteoporosis, can be prevented through exercise and nutrition. For those who already have osteoporosis, there are ways to prevent it from getting worse. 

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis, which translates to “porous bone,” is a medical condition which causes bones to become brittle and weak. The Mayo Clinic goes on to explain, “Bone is living tissue that is constantly being broken down and replaced. Osteoporosis occurs when the creation of new bone doesn't keep up with the loss of old bone.” This loss of tissue causes bones - particularly  in the spine, hip and wrist - to become fragile and break more easily. There may also be pain, limited range of motion and impaired function of daily activities. In extreme cases, it can lead to disability and hospitalization. Due to the nature of this condition, it can have a significant impact on people’s lives, which may cause feelings of isolation and grief over loss of independence and freedom.

What causes osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis affects millions of Americans. High-risk individuals include those who:

  • are female.
  • have a family history of osteoporosis.
  • have a small body frame.
  • are over the age of 50 (risk increases with age).
  • are not physically active or have extended bed rest.
  • have not gotten enough calcium or vitamin D throughout their lives.
  • have gone through menopause or had surgery to remove their ovaries. Estrogen plays a role in rebuilding bones.
  • smoke or consume alcohol in excess. These increase calcium loss in the body.
  • have other diagnoses. In some cases, osteoporosis is caused by an underlying health condition and exacerbated if the underlying condition is not treated or managed. 
  • are male with low levels of testosterone.
  • are non-Hispanic Caucasian or Asian.

What are the symptoms? 

Osteoporosis is called a “silent disease” because people often don’t know they have it until a bone is broken or fractured. This usually happens after a fall. However, there are warning signs that could indicate the presence of osteoporosis, such as: 

  • backaches 
  • curvature of the spine 
  • loss of height 

How is it diagnosed?

A bone density scan, also known as a DEXA scan, can be used to diagnose osteoporosis or assess your risk of developing it. In most cases, Medicare insurance covers DEXA scans under Part B. Specialists related to this condition include rheumatologists, endocrinologists, and orthopedic surgeons.

How can osteoporosis be prevented and/or treated?

While there are many factors beyond our control, certain lifestyle choices can help with the prevention and management of osteoporosis. Before following any of these regimens, we recommend speaking with a doctor. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, the following drugs are formulated for osteoporosis: Ibandronic acid, Raloxifene, Alendronic acid and Risedronic acid. Hormone therapy may also help in some cases. 

Exercises typically prescribed for those with osteoporosis include: 

  • strength training (especially for the upper back) using weights, resistance bands or your own body weight.
  • aerobic activities on your feet, such as walking, dancing or the use of ellipticals/stairs.
  • flexibility exercises in the form of gentle and slow stretching after muscles are warmed up.
  • stability and balance exercises, such as standing on one leg or practicing tai chi.

Slow, controlled movements are best for people with osteoporosis. A physical therapist can recommend appropriate exercises and ensure correct form is being used.

High-impact movements such as running, jumping and jogging are to be avoided. These fast-paced exercises involve hitting the ground hard and come with a higher risk of bone injury. Bending and twisting are also movements to avoid or take precautions with because they can compress your spine. Sports involving these movements include golf, tennis and bowling. People with osteoporosis may also have to refrain from certain yoga poses.

Nature’s medicine

The foods we eat play a crucial role in bone health, and it’s something we have control over! There are dietary deficiencies that can lead to osteoporosis, and there are foods that can help slow down the loss of bone mass. 

Calcium, vitamin D and protein

A deficiency in calcium can lead to osteoporosis. If there is not enough calcium in the diet, the body will take it from the bones. Vitamin D is equally important because it helps the body absorb calcium from the food you eat – a diet rich in both is crucial. Protein is another key nutrient for bone health. It makes up about 50% of the bone’s volume and about one-third of its mass. Vitamins and supplements may be used at the direction of a doctor if these nutrients cannot be obtained through diet, but food is the best way to ensure the absorption of these nutrients. 

Got milk (alternatives)?

It’s common to think that drinking more milk will assist with calcium deficiency. As infants, we require milk or milk substitutes as our development depends on milk’s rich nutrients. However, as we get older, milk is no longer a necessary component of our diet. Additionally, we can become intolerant to lactose as we age. Those who enjoy cow’s milk and are able to tolerate it, can use it as a source of calcium, vitamin D and protein. However, for the many Americans who don't drink cow’s milk, there are plenty of plant-based milk options that contain comparable nutrients. There are ways to ingest essential nutrients without consuming dairy. 

How to obtain essential nutrients

According to the National Spine Health Foundation, mixing plant-based proteins with high-quality animal proteins can ensure optimal bone health. For those who avoid animal proteins, there are still lots of great protein sources available. Vitamin D can be obtained from sunlight, so a daily walk during daylight is great, in addition to various foods. Vitamin K can also help the body use calcium properly. 

Healthy foods with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K or protein include:

  • Eggs
  • Fish (salmon, mackerel, canned sardines and tuna)
  • Lean meats
  • Legumes (beans)
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Leafy greens 
  • Broccoli
  • Almonds and almond milk
  • Natural soy
  • Fortified foods
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt

The Mediterranean diet includes many of the foods listed above. One study discovered that seniors with osteoporosis who followed a Mediterranean-like diet for 12 months had a much slower rate of hip bone loss than peers who did not follow the diet.

Avoiding processed foods, excessive caffeine intake and refined sugar will assist in maintaining healthy bone density. Nicotine and excessive alcohol use can also interfere with bone growth.

How Healthrageous supports strong bones

At Healthrageous we pride ourselves on providing high-quality, easy-to-heat and eat meals. All of our Made Easy Meals are developed to improve health and contain many osteoporosis-friendly ingredients such as: eggs, chicken, leafy greens and legumes. Healthrageous partners with Medicare Advantage seniors to support them (and their bones!), because it’s never too late for them to take control of one’s health.

Activate your Medicare Advantage plan members with our convenient, diabetic and cardiac-friendly meals. Click HERE to find out how.

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