Without the benefit of poetic licence, it’s unlikely you’re feeling anything in your bones, which is why osteoporosis is such a sneaky disease. Hundreds of thousands of the two-million-plus Canadians suffering from it don’t have a clue.
Adults over 50 have the highest risk of fractures, but the good news is that most have already built up some defences without even trying. That’s because fostering strong bones starts early in life-as young as 11-with regular weight-bearing exercises (running and playing soccer, for example), sunlight for vitamin D and a diet rich in calcium, which is found in dairy and dark leafy greens.
“Nutrition plays an important role in building bone, especially in childhood and teen years,” says Dr. Alexandra Papaioannou, a member of Osteoporosis Canada’s Scientific Advisory Council. She counsels vigilance in monitoring the condition, which weakens bones and makes them prone to breaking; one in five men and one in three women with osteoporosis will suffer a broken bone due to the disease. What’s more, two-thirds of spine fractures caused by osteoporosis go undiagnosed, attributed to normal aging-related height loss and back pain.
New Canadian guidelines on the condition emphasize not only maintaining good bone health but, because of the inevitability of osteoporosis for some, also taking steps to prevent falls-the cause of most fractures-from occurring.
Up to 85 per cent of your bone mineral density is determined by genetics. But improving strength and balance with walking, weightlifting and exercises such as tai chi can reduce the risk of taking a spill. “Start in your 40s to prevent those falls from happening in your 70s and 80s,” says Papaioannou.