Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a health care professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.

Keeping your bones dense

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, half of all adults aged fifty and older have osteoporosis or low bone density (osteopenia), an epidemic proportion. A skeletal disease characterized by changes in bone mass and structure leading to skeletal fragility, this disease is responsible for an estimated two million broken bones per year.

Hip fractures are the most serious and often deadly type of fracture. Twenty four percent of hip-fracture patients aged fifty and over die within a year of the fracture. Six months after a hip fracture, only fifteen percent of patients can walk across a room unaided.

Of the nearly 300,000 annual hip fracture patients, one quarter end up in nursing homes and half never regain previous function.  These are terrifying statistics but you don’t have to be one of them.

What causes osteopenia and osteoporosis? Uncontrollable risk factors for osteoporosis include being female, being older, having either a family history of osteoporosis, a history of broken bones, a small, thin frame, being white or of Asian or Latino heritage, and menopause.

Kidney disease, thyroid problems and certain medications may also cause osteoporosis. However, there are certain controllable lifestyle behaviors that impact your chances of developing the disease:  poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyle, muscle weakness, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption. You don’t need to wait until you have a diagnosis of osteopenia or osteoporosis to do something about it.

Your diet has a significant impact on the health of your bones.  Specific nutrients including calcium, vitamin D, phosphorous, vitamin K, magnesium, vitamin B and B12 are necessary for bone growth and maintenance.  Protein is an essential part of a healthy diet but a diet very high in animal protein may cause calcium loss.

High caffeine intake (more than four cups of coffee a day) inhibits calcium absorption and leads to calcium loss through the urine. Excessive salt consumption causes loss of calcium through the kidneys.

Joel Fuhrman, M.D., author of the book Eat to Live, recommends eating a diet high in natural foods and writes, “When you eat a healthy diet rich in natural foods such as vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds, it is easy to obtain sufficient calcium. In fact, the addition of more natural plant foods to the diet has been shown to have a powerful effect on increasing bone density and bone health.”

Most importantly, exercise is an essential defense against osteoporosis and fracture risk. Physical activity strengthens muscles, improves coordination and balance, and increases flexibility.  Research by the Bone Research Lab at Oregon State University shows that performing targeted exercises later in life slows bone loss and improves strength and balance which may reduce fall risk.

The Better Bones & Balance program these researchers developed is safe and beneficial for individuals with osteoporosis and osteopenia. The targeted resistance, balance, and impact exercises in this program have been shown to safely and effectively increase muscle strength, improve balance, reduce fall risk, and even increase bone density.

Available through Portland’s Bone and Balance Academy, classes focus on form and functional strength training including squats, lunges, stepping, full body weight work with dumbbells and bands, core strength and mat work, as well as exercises to improve balance.

All exercises can be modified to the specific needs of each student. Registration is now open for the January thru March session.

Monica Eischen, is a certified Better Bones & Balance instructor. For information email monica@boneandbalanceacademy.com.