Robert Hayden, DC, PhD, FICC
We are not the hardy species we were when pioneers crossed this continent on foot or on horseback without roads, compass, or Holiday Inn Express. Perhaps it is related to our diet, our nice cars and SUVs that keep us from walking, or the climate controlled environment in which we live. Whatever the cause, we are getting soft as a race. Even our bones are getting soft.
Ten million Americans have osteoporosis. 80% of these are women who suffer debilitating and life-threatening fractures. Even worse, the proportion of people with this condition continues to expand. Another 34 million have low bone mass and are headed to osteoporosis unless something changes. By 2025, the cost of osteoporosis – related fractures is estimated to be around $25.3 billion.
Reasons for the trend are still being researched. Instead of playing outside, many children today are sitting in front of televisions, computers, or other electronic toys, exercising only their fingers. Not too long ago I saw a three-year-old exhibiting blinding eye to hand coordination on an iPad. While this was a stunning display of accelerated development, I wondered if this child will ever go out and play soccer or ride a bicycle. Isn’t that old-fashioned of me?
Osteoporosis is not inevitable. It is a silent condition with no symptoms until a fracture occurs, but screening can and should be done to identify the problem ahead of time and prevent those fractures. Hip fractures get all of the attention in the press, and they are serious, but wrist fractures are considered “sentinel” fractures for this condition because they often happen first as a result of a fall or near fall.
Screening should be done every two years in the high risk group. The list of risk factors begins with female gender, but men get osteoporosis, too. Being post-menopausal, small frame, sedentary, or Caucasian or Asian will put you in the high risk group. Smokers, high caffeine consumers, people with known calcium or vitamin D deficiencies, those with prolonged hormonal imbalances, or women who lose ovaries by age 45 are all high risk. A simple bone density scan every two years among the high risk group will help monitor the condition.
So, what can we do? Exercise that forces you to resist gravity is good. That includes walking, riding a bicycle, weightlifting, stair climbing, dancing, aerobics, and even Tai Chi. Look over that list and notice how many can be done with a friend. Group exercise is fun and provides some built-in accountability. However you want to do it, know that resistive exercise is the best way to maintain your bone density.
Many of us spend our entire lives inside. I think there has been much fear built into exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun, but some sun exposure is good because it helps us make vitamin D. Many people are vitamin D deficient. I personally take at least 2000 units every day. This will help you absorb calcium. Speaking of calcium, 1200 mg of calcium daily is the next step.
Take care of your bones. Think of it this way: support them now and they will support you later.