How can I prevent osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis and its complications are not a normal part of aging. In many cases, the risk of osteoporosis can be reduced by adopting healthy bone habits from a young age. These include maintaining adequate calcium and vitamin D levels, partaking in regular exercise and leading a healthy lifestyle.

Adequate calcium intake

Calcium is a major structural element of bones and teeth and is required for bone health at every age. It is important for maximising bone density and strength in early adulthood and reducing the risk of osteoporosis later in life. Adequate calcium can be obtained by consuming a healthy and varied diet with plenty of calcium-rich foods including milk, yoghurt, cheese, some brands of tofu and green leafy vegetables such as spinach.1 When dietary calcium intake is insufficient, a calcium supplement may be necessary to support bone health. This is especially important at times when calcium is required in greater quantities such as after menopause in women and when over the age of 70.

Sufficient vitamin D

Vitamin D is required for the absorption and utilisation of calcium and phosphorus, which are in turn needed for bone growth and the maintenance of bone density. It is also important for maintaining muscle strength and may reduce the risk of falls and associated fractures in older people. The main source of vitamin D is through exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. If sunlight exposure is inadequate, it can lead to vitamin D insufficiency and may have negative effects on bone health. Unfortunately one in three Australians may be vitamin D insufficient.

A vitamin D supplement may be necessary for those who:

  • Avoid the sun for health or cosmetic reasons
  • Have naturally dark skin
  • Wear concealing clothing for cultural or religious reasons
  • Are older and may have a reduced capacity to produce vitamin D

Physical activity

Regular exercise plays an important role in preserving and/or improving bone strength and density at all ages.2 On the contrary, a sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis.3 Specific types of exercise are better than others for bone health. These include weight-bearing activities, which are performed on your feet where you bear your own weight, such as brisk walking, running, skipping, basketball/netball, tennis, dancing and stair walking.2 Resistance or strength training is also important for supporting bone strength, for example lifting hand weights or using gym machines. To get the most out of exercise it needs to be implemented at least three times a week and should become more challenging over time.2

Healthy lifestyle

There are certain modifiable lifestyle factors that can increase the risk of osteoporosis in men and women including:3

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Alcohol consumption of more than two standard drinks per day
  • Caffeine intake of more than three cups of coffee, tea or equivalent per day

Therefore, to reduce the chances of developing this debilitating bone condition it is vital to avoid smoking, and moderate alcohol and caffeine consumption. Drink no more than two standard alcoholic drinks and less than three caffeinated beverages a day, and have at least two alcohol-free days each week.3 It is also important to consume a healthy and balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein and whole grains to ensure you are giving your body all the vitamins and minerals it needs for bone health.