How Women Can Keep Their Bones Strong Through Menopause And Beyond
It's Important To Do What You Can To Prevent Osteoporosis
Having recently reached a milestone in life, becoming over 50 years old, I didn't think much about things that can affect older women over age 50 like the beginnings of osteoporosis. I guess it's one of those things you think probably won't ever happen to you (at least for me it was). My doctor recommended recently that I have a Dexascan test to determine bone density, and to see whether I am at risk for developing osteoporosis.
The test is non invasive (meaning nothing is put through your skin)... it's like a simple, low dose x-ray that is done on your upper femur, your hip and spine. Then you receive what they call a dexa-score.
The lower your number, the higher at risk you are to develop osteoporosis. Here is a chart showing what your results of your Dexascan mean:
-4.0 -3.5 -3.0 -2.5 -2.0 -1.5 [ -1.0 -0.5 0 0.5 1.0]
(numbers in [ ] are normal)
Anything in the underlined area is cause for concern, since this is considered the "risk for fracture" area, and should be addressed with pro-active steps taken to prevent or stop osteoporosis.
Do you know your T-score? I found mine out, and thankfully it was fine. -1.0 and up is considered normal (compared to a young healthy female). Once it starts to go to -1.5 or lower, it is time to do something to prevent the development of osteoporosis. Once you get into the -2.5 to -4.0 range, you are at increased risk for fractures.
Most of us probably know someone who is affected by osteoporosis. My experience was with a former co-worker. She had such an "S" shaped curve to her neck, it always looked as though she was looking upward to look at people and talk to them. I never did ask her if she had pain, but even if it was painless, it looked as if it would be uncomfortable to look at the world that way.
The word "dexa" in Dexascan stands for "Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry". This test is one of the most accurate ways to diagnose the beginnings of (or current stage of) Osteoporosis. It is the most accurate test for this, as well as the most commonly used test.
The radiation used for this test is less than you would experience in a CAT scan, or from a regular x-ray. In fact, you would be exposed to more radiation on a coast to coast airline flight that you would be from a Dexa-scan bone density test.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that women over 65 have this test, unless you have risk factors for osteoporosis. The biggest risk factor is family history, especially on your mother's side. In my case, my mother passed away when I was 16 years old (at age 37)... so I have one entire side of my family history that I know almost nothing about.
That is the biggest reason I chose to have the test done at age 51. I know that on my father's side, there is no history of osteoporosis, but the "what if" on my mother's side was a mystery. I figured that if the test would have determined that I am at risk for osteoporosis or fractures, I'd rather know about it earlier so I can take steps to prevent it.
The next risk factor is your ethnicity - the greatest risk is held by Caucasian women and Asian women, then Hispanic women, and African American women are at lowest risk. Another risk factor is low body weight. Being petite and slender leads to a tendency to have a low body mass index, which puts you at a higher risk for osteoporosis.
Also, if you were over the age of 15 when your menstrual periods first started, or if you went into "early menopause" (age 45 or earlier) this will also put you at higher risk.
Your lifestyle can also put you at risk. If you tend to be sedentary and don't do very much weight bearing exercise, (walking, running, or weightlifting), this can put you at risk, as well as a poor diet, or diet low in calcium.
Alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking can also be factors, as well as very high caffeine consumption.
Know Your Risk Factors And Be Proactive Early If You Find You're At Risk!
It is very important to go over your possible risk factors with your physician when deciding whether or not you should have your first dexascan before age 65. Women are primarily at risk for osteoporosis, but men can also be affected, especially if they are over age 65. This is something that I was not aware of until I started researching for this article. So, it may be wise for men to talk to their doctor about bone density and bone health as well.
The single most important thing you can do to prevent osteoporosis is to do weight bearing exercise regularly, this includes walking, running, weightlifting, aerobics, climbing stairs, dancing, water aerobics, and the like... any exercise where your bones are required to bear your body weight is good. So, not only is exercise good to help keep your weight under control, it is good for your bones as well!
And if you are like me and find it hard to get motivated to exercise, joining a fun fitness class for people over 50 is a good idea. Many community centers have inexpensive classes that anyone in the community can join. Health clubs have them, too, but they are often more expensive to join and membership in the health club is often required to participate in classes offered through the fitness center.
By joining an age specific class, you know that the exercise will be tailored to your age group and will not be so difficult to do that you end up breathless and frustrated. It can be a lot more motivating to exercise when you are involved in a group experience and it won't be as easy to quit so fast either. The social aspects can be very enjoyable, too. You might walk away having found a new friend!
Calcium Is Important Too...
Try to get the required amount of calcium (1,500 to 2,000 mg per day after menopause in women and after age 65 in men). You can get this calcium in your diet, and through use of supplements, as well as Vitamin D. Vitamin D can be made by your skin, through sun exposure, or you can get it through supplements as well. Just 10 minutes a day in the sun can cause you to get enough Vitamin D!
Your doctor may also choose to have you start on osteoporosis preventing medications, depending on what your score is. Be sure to learn about these medications, and side effects, so you can have a well informed talk with your doctor before deciding if these medications are right for you.
Stay strong, know your dexa-score, get plenty of exercise and sunshine, as well as calcium, and your bones will stay strong so you'll be able to continue to do all the things you most enjoy in life... like keeping up with those adorable grand-babies!