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Strong bones, strong you: Tips for preventing and treating osteoporosis

Osteoporosis, a condition that causes your bones to become weak and brittle, can be a major concern as you age. Amongst other risks, osteoporosis can cause you to break or fracture your bones easily, an increased concern as mobility and fall risk become more common as you age. While much of one’s risk of developing osteoporosis is genetic (with 75% of cases resulting from a genetic predisposition), there are still many ways to prevent or manage the condition.

Dr. Charles Upchurch, an endocrinologist at Tryon, provides guidance on how you can address osteoporosis.

“Prevention starts as early as possible,” Dr. Upchurch says. “There are several lifestyle changes you can make from an early age that will pay dividends later.”

Dr. Upchurch shares five tips for preventing or treating osteoporosis to ensure that you can live a long and healthy life:

1. Include a diet full of vitamin D and calcium.

Starting from the time you are a young adult, it is important to make sure that you are fueling your body with foods to develop strong bones. Vitamin D and calcium are integral to the development of strong bones, and Dr. Upchurch emphasizes that dairy provides high levels of both and can be easily incorporated into most diets. It is important to know that working to address these deficiencies after one develops osteoporosis is not very effective; instead, you should get out ahead of the problem through prevention of deficiencies from a young age.

2. Incorporate weight-bearing exercises throughout your life.

While exercise can positively impact your overall health, it is a particularly important way to strengthen your bone density to help prevent osteoporosis. What is the best type of weight-bearing exercise to include in your workout regimen?

Dr. Upchurch defines it as, “Any exercise that you really enjoy doing a lot. That’s because things you enjoy doing the most are what you’ll do the most of.” 

If you are looking for specific exercises to include, Dr. Upchurch recommends resistance exercise with weights. For example, leg presses with a machine at the gym have been shown to improve hip bone density.

3. Try to limit your intake of alcohol and tobacco and work to maintain a healthy weight.

In working to prevent osteoporosis, Dr. Upchurch flags that it is important to avoid excessive alcohol and tobacco use, as those have been linked with an increased risk of osteoporosis. Additionally, being underweight can also put you at risk; by incorporating a healthy diet that includes vitamin D and calcium, you can also ensure that you are maintaining a healthy weight. 

As Dr. Upchurch emphasizes, “Your bone density really peaks in your 30s. If your health is not good in your 20s and early 30s, then you’ll never reach your optimal bone mass, which can lead to osteoporosis down the line.”

4. If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, continuing to exercise is key in keeping larger impacts at bay.

While exercise is important in preventing osteoporosis, it is also integral to helping you stay healthy once diagnosed. This exercise can include running, walking and swimming, and will help to not only improve bone density, but also improve your agility, which reduces the chance of falling. 

Additional steps you can take to decrease your fall risk at home include , avoiding pain and sedation medications that predispose you to fall in the night, removing rugs and engaging in physical therapy to work on balance.

5. There are great prescription medications that can help if you are diagnosed with osteoporosis; reach out to your doctor to have a conversation.

Happily, there are many medications for osteoporosis that are incredibly safe and very inexpensive. Dr. Upchurch notes that he is always happy to have a conversation with his patients about the best medical course forward with their osteoporosis, which can include medication and other non-prescription interventions, such as physical therapy. If you are concerned about your risk of osteoporosis (or are dealing with a diagnosis), reach out to a Tryon endocrinologist like Dr. Upchurch today to set up time to establish a plan for care.