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Osteoporosis, Nourishment, Fall Prevention

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Anna Palmer, 74, has learned the hard way in the decades since she was first diagnosed with osteopenia. Conventional wisdom suggested that dietary calcium—highly present in milk and other dairy products—was the best protection against age-associated bone loss. And that wisdom wasn’t entirely wrong.

“There’s no doubt or disagreement among the medical community that consuming a calcium-rich diet, especially when we’re young, is crucial for strong, healthy bones,” explained Dorothea Vafiadis, Director of NCOA’s Center for Healthy Aging. “We have a limited period to achieve ‘peak bone mass’—generally between early adolescence and age 30 for most people—and that’s when dietary calcium packs its most powerful punch and helps later in life because everyone will experience bone thinning as we age.”

But once we’re past peak bone mass, eating high-calcium foods or taking supplements won’t help build new bone or necessarily protect against breaking one. Calcium can’t reverse osteopenia once it starts. Nor will it cure osteoporosis. Because calcium helps build bone, it stands to reason that it helps maintain it by nourishing it with healthy nutrients and daily movements. 

Anna’s Osteoporosis Story

Anna was in her early 50s and recently past menopause when her gynecologist suggested a newfangled test. The DEXA scanner showed that she had already experienced some bone loss.

“I have a healthy lifestyle. We were surprised by my results,” Anna said. That’s when she realized what her gynecologist had earlier explained: Diet matters concerning osteopenia, but other risk factors contribute, too.

As a post-menopausal white woman, Anna already fell squarely into the typical profile for the condition. She also checked a few more boxes, including having a low body weight and a small frame. “On top of that, I was a heavy smoker when I was younger and was completely unaware that it was affecting my bone health,” she said. 

Osteoporosis Risk Factors

Modifiable Risks Unmodifiable Risks
Smoking Small frame body
Alcohol intake (> two drinks per day)  Race – white or Asian
Inadequate vitamin D Gender – Female
Sedentary lifestyle Low peak bone mass
Men with low testosterone levels Family history of osteoporosis
Diabetes History of bone fractures


Anna advises that any older adult concerned about bone health ask their doctor about getting screened—”even men,” she said. Anna learned that men aren’t immune to osteoporosis, so she made an appointment for her husband.

She has other advice about her biggest fear: falling and breaking a bone.  

Some people found osteoporosis medication to be a game-changer for those diagnosed with the disease, slowing down bone loss and improving bone density. One in four older adults in the U.S. is likely to fall in any given year. While osteoporosis can be a scary diagnosis, it is essential to remember that it doesn’t have to change one’s life all that much. Instead, it can motivate people to care for bone health and maintain a healthy fear of falling. Everyone deserves to live a life free of pain, deformities, and loss of height, and by taking care of bone health, we can all strive for a better quality of life.

Anna has shared some rules to avoid falls when you have osteoporosis. 

  1. Staying active: Regular exercise, particularly weight-bearing activities, helps keep muscles strong, thus protecting bones and promoting good balance. Anna and her husband walk most days of the week, and she takes a fitness class at the senior center. She has learned that regular walking and climbing stairs can help reduce bone loss and prevent falls. Anna inspires others facing similar challenges, proving that taking control of your health and well-being is always possible.
  2. Eliminating tripping hazards: Furniture, area rugs, and pets can cause home falls. Anna looked around her house and moved or removed any obstacles that posed a danger.
  3. Being aware of surroundings: Tripping hazards are everywhere, yet staying home to avoid all danger can create a vicious cycle of further physical decline and an increased risk for falls. Anna is always cautious and pays attention to her surroundings. She scans the sidewalk for cracks, uneven surfaces, and even wet leaves during walks, indoor or crowded places, and parking lots. She also always uses the railings when climbing or descending stairs.
  4. Asking for help: Standing on a chair to dust the top of a tall cabinet or reach a hard-to-get holiday decoration may seem like a good idea, but it can be dangerous. When the urge hits, Anna reminds herself not to do it and leans on family instead.
  5. Balanced diet: Eating fish and other lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables is recommended. It would be best to get enough of the nutrients you need daily to improve bone health. Some recent studies have suggested that consuming olive oil, soybeans, blueberries, and omega-3-rich foods like fish oil and flaxseed oil may provide bone-boosting benefits. However, these studies are inconclusive, so whether these foods directly contribute to bone health is still being determined. Nevertheless, adding these foods to your diet is still a great choice because they offer numerous health benefits.

“I try to obey my own rules,” she laughed. She even toned down activities she engaged in without much thought, like swimming in the surf, pushing the lawnmower, and swinging her small grandchildren into the air. “I know those things could knock me down, so I honor my limits,” she concluded. Doing so helps ensure that Anna can continue to experience the greatest joy in her life: spending time with her family, engaging yet safe.

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