Osteoporosis affects a large portion of the population and is very common with more than three million U.S. cases per year. This happens when the bones become porous, disrupting the density and quality of the bones and eventually reducing their quality.
As a result of the disease, there is an increased risk of fractures, because the bones are so frail. Sadly, this is usually the first sign of osteoporosis, as there are no other distinct symptoms.
Carol Clements is an ambassador for the National Osteoporosis Foundation and the author of Better Balance for Life: Banish the Fear of Falling with Simple Activities Added to Your Everyday Routine.
“There is a lot [that] you can do to protect your bones throughout your life. You’re never too young or too old to improve the health of your bones. Building strong bones begins in childhood. But, it shouldn’t stop then. Whatever your age, the habits you adopt now can affect your bone health for the rest of your life,” explains Clements.
“If you have received a diagnosis of osteoporosis, preventing falls is crucial. But, the diagnosis doesn’t have to restrict your lifestyle activities. The key is to improve your balance and conquer the fear of falling.”
Below are Clements’ top tips, broken down into attainable steps, so that you can start today to gear yourself towards optimal bone health.
“You can reduce your risk factors for falling by wearing sensible and flexible-soled footwear. Be careful about rugs and clutter in your home—opt for clutter free living space. Improve your physical skills to counteract fear and avoidance behaviors in lifestyle activities,” suggests Clements.
Here are additional considerations to help deter osteoporosis in the future.
Clements says that eating a well-balanced diet with a lot of dairy, fish, fruits, and vegetables will provide the nutrients needed, like calcium and vitamin D, which are the most important for bone health.
“Too many Americans fall short of getting the amount of calcium they need, and that can lead to bone loss. Vitamin D plays an important role in protecting your bones, both by helping your body absorb calcium and by supporting muscles needed to avoid falls,” shares Clements.
Getting enough vitamin D is vital to avoid breaking breaking your bones as you age.
Furthermore, the human body was designed to move. Staying bone-strong means staying physically active. Weight-bearing exercises and muscle-strengthening exercises build and maintain muscle and bone density.
Our brain, nervous system, vision, inner ear, muscles, bones, and other body-orienting reflexes all work together to maintain daily balance in our bodies. When you lead an inactive lifestyle, this balance system switches off. You need to turn the balance system back on! Maintaining balance is a skill that gets better with practice and deteriorates without it.
“How do you practice balancing? With simple exercises that place your body in unstable positions. The sensor nerve endings that give information about your body’s position and movement receive the stimulation they need to stay functional. Of course, you do this while minimizing the risk of falling,” explains Clements.
Balance is not something that most people are thinking about regularly, so finding ways to build it into your daily routine—like while brushing your teeth or while watching TV—is the perfect time to squeeze it in.
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Already brushing your teeth? Lightly place one finger of your non-brushing hand on the edge of the sink or vanity, so that as you stand you have support from a sturdy base, but are not holding on tightly. Move one foot slightly behind you and off the floor.
This will force you to adjust your center of gravity and recruit hip and core muscles to stabilize yourself. If you lose your balance at first, touch the non-standing foot to the floor slowly to steady yourself and calmly resume balancing.
Eventually you will be able to stand on one leg without touching the sink while you brush your teeth. Alternate feet morning and night.
Activate Your Glutes
Clements suggests that if you sit most of the day, you should use every opportunity of sitting down and standing up to build lower body strength. Sitting deactivates the buttocks, so it is ideal to activate the buttocks muscles before you stand up.
Scoot the chair back, if necessary, and slide to the front of the seat, placing feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart. While remaining seated, contract your buttocks muscles and keep them contracted.
Now, lean forward, relaxing your head to fall forward slightly, and shift your center of gravity over your ankles as you take weight onto both feet. Watch that your kneecaps bend and point in the same direction as your toes—not to the insides of your feet.
If you need to, use your arms, either on the arms of the chair or on your thighs, to help support your weight as you squat up. Use your already contracted buttocks and your thighs to do the work as you lift your pelvis on top of your legs and come to standing. Use the same form in reverse when you sit down.
When time permits, find enjoyable activities that improve balance, like billiards, tai chi, and dancing to music. Clements goes on to say that the most important thing is to not give up and to keep trying.