Aging is a beautiful journey, filled with wisdom, experiences, and new beginnings. However, it’s also a time when our bodies require a little extra care and attention. If you’re a post-menopausal woman with osteoporosis, looking to begin osteoporosis treatment, or would like to do more to prevent osteoporosis, you likely understand the importance of maintaining strong bones as you age.
Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by fragile bones and can be a challenge as we grow older. The good news is that you can conquer this condition with the right knowledge and proactive steps. In this article, we’ll explore how you can age gracefully while managing osteoporosis, focusing on the different elements of osteoporosis treatment: nutrition, vitamin D supplementation, medication options, and exercise tailored to your unique needs.
Nourishing Your Bones: Calcium is Key
Maintaining a healthy diet is crucial for anyone, but for those with osteoporosis, it takes on added importance. Your bones depend on calcium to stay strong and dense. Think of calcium as a building block that is essential for building strong bones. This building block becomes even more critical for osteoporosis treatment, as many adults consume less dietary calcium as they age. When we consider calcium intake, the recommended daily supplement is at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily, in addition to the calcium that we would get from our diet. This can be a bit tricky, but here are some tips to increase calcium in ways that our bodies are meant to absorb it:
Dairy products like yogurt, milk, and cheese are excellent sources of calcium. If you find you have a sensitivity to dairy, there are excellent non-dairy options such as almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk, and soy products that may have even more calcium than their dairy counterparts.
Spinach, kale, and collard greens are rich in calcium. Add them to salads, soups, or smoothies to increase your intake. These can be steamed, cooked, or raw.
Many foods, like certain cereals, orange juice, and plant-based milk alternatives, are fortified with calcium. Check the labels to identify these products and opt for less sugary versions if possible.
Salmon and sardines (with bones) are great choices, providing both calcium and vitamin D.
If it’s challenging to meet your calcium needs through diet alone, consider calcium supplements. Your rheumatologist can help you determine the right dosage. Calcium citrate is less likely to lead to kidney stones and is better absorbed by our GI tract than calcium carbonate. You do not specifically need magnesium or zinc for calcium to be effective. Many calcium supplements also contain vitamin D.
Vitamin D: Your Bone’s Best Friend
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in calcium absorption, making it an essential companion to your calcium intake. Sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D, but as we age, our bodies may become less efficient at producing it. As our risk of skin cancer increases due to sun exposure, many of us are limiting our time out in the sun as well. To ensure you’re getting enough vitamin D to meet the needs of healthy bone maintenance opt for a combination of (limited) sunshine and supplements as an important part of your osteoporosis treatment.
Spend some time in the sun daily. Just 15-20 minutes of sun exposure on your skin can help your body produce vitamin D. Be sure to apply sunscreen after that time to protect your skin. Natural light has also been shown to improve mental well-being and circadian rhythm regulation, so there is still a benefit to being outside on a regular basis. However, especially living in Arizona, it is not recommended to rely on sunshine as your sole source of vitamin D.
Many post-menopausal women require vitamin D supplements. Your rheumatologist can measure your vitamin D levels and recommend a supplement regimen tailored to your needs. Supplements can range from over-the-counter to prescription strength and should be monitored by your healthcare team. A “normal” vitamin D lab test may not be the recommended level that you may need to support bone mineralization, so this discussion is important to have, even if you do not have osteoporosis. Your level should also be monitored regularly if you are on bone strength supplements for osteoporosis treatment.
When Medication is Indicated
In some cases, lifestyle changes and supplements may not be enough to manage osteoporosis effectively. Your rheumatologist will assess your individual risk factors, including bone density scans and fracture history, to determine if medication is necessary. Common medications for osteoporosis include:
These drugs slow bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures. They are typically taken orally or as a yearly infusion (IV treatment).
Monoclonal Antibody Treatment
Denosumab is an injectable medication that reduces bone breakdown.
Teriparatide or abaloparatide are anabolic medications used to treat osteoporosis. Anabolic medications are those that promote bone formation, leading to an increase in bone density and strength. These work by mimicking the action of parathyroid hormone (PTH), a natural hormone in the body that regulates calcium and phosphate metabolism.
Romosozumab is a combination treatment that increases bone formation and decreases bone resorption in the form of an injection.
If you have questions about medication and osteoporosis treatment options, your rheumatologist can answer questions based on your bone density test results and specific needs and which options would fit your lifestyle. Because osteoporosis is not something you feel as a symptom, it is important to discuss your treatment options with your healthcare team, so you have the best chance to build and maintain strong bones. If you have experienced a fracture and have osteopenia or osteoporosis on your bone density test, a discussion about the best treatment is even more important to prevent future fractures and improve your chances of proper healing.
Exercise with Osteoporosis: Strength and Balance
Exercise is a vital component of healthy aging with osteoporosis. It helps improve bone density, muscle strength, and balance, reducing the risk of falls and fractures. Here’s a simple exercise routine tailored to your needs:
Activities like walking, dancing, or hiking are excellent for bone health. Aim for at least 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise most days of the week. You can maximize your efforts by combining that activity with ankle or wrist weights. Even grocery shopping with ankle weights is an effective way to strengthen your bones over time.
Strength training exercises using weights or resistance bands can help build muscle and support your bones. Include exercises for your upper body, lower body, and core. These exercises can be done with weights under 10 lbs. Full water bottles make for excellent weights if you do not have hand weights.
Balance and Flexibility:
Incorporate exercises that enhance balance and flexibility, such as yoga or tai chi. These can help prevent falls and improve overall mobility.
Consult a Professional:
Consider working with a physical therapist or fitness trainer who specializes in osteoporosis treatment to develop a personalized exercise plan. Depending on your insurance plan, these services may be covered up to a certain number of sessions per year.
Silver Sneakers is a program offered by many Medicare plans and is tailored to patients both virtually at home and in live group settings.
Empower Yourself With Knowledge
Education is your best ally in managing osteoporosis. Stay informed about the latest recommendations and treatment options. Your rheumatologist is an excellent resource when it comes to bone health and can discuss the most up-to-date osteoporosis treatment recommendations during an office visit. Even if you do not have a diagnosis, you can discuss ways to maximize your bone health and prevent osteoporosis. If you have a family history or relative with osteoporosis, take certain medications that may increase your risk for osteoporosis, or have history of multiple falls or fractures (anywhere in your body), you can benefit from a conversation about bone health. Remember that you’re not alone, and there is a wealth of resources available to help you thrive while managing osteoporosis.
Your journey through aging can be vibrant and fulfilling—osteoporosis doesn’t have to stand in your way. By taking proactive steps to care for your bones and overall well-being, you can look forward to many more years of living life to the fullest.
Are you looking for osteoporosis treatment in Gilbert, Arizona? Our Osteoporosis specialists can work with you to find the best way to manage, or prevent, osteoporosis. Our rheumatologists are currently accepting new patients. Give us a call at (480) 494-2770 or send us a message.