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With women prone to osteoporosis as they grow older, here are some health tips for preventing osteoporosis in Indian women.
By Melanie Lobo
Much has been said about Osteoporosis, a disease where the bones in our body become fragile, porous and thinner over time. They tend to lose their normal density thereby turning weaker and are more likely to break and fracture. These fractures occur usually in the wrist, hip and spine. Osteoporosis can progress quite painlessly. You may only find out when you break a bone.
Osteoporosis is mainly found in post-menopausal women due to the decrease in bone mass with an increase in age. Bones are only formed till the age of 35-40. There may not be a way to completely stop bone loss as it is a result of both environmental and genetic factors. But you can definitely take some preventive measures against Osteoporosis.
Here are the points you should keep in mind to protect yourself from osteoporosis:
Lifestyle changes: Dr. Sachin Tapasvi, Joint Replacement and Arthroscopic Surgeon at Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital and Jehangir Hospital, Pune says, “The key determinants of bone mass are basically exercise, diet, genetic influences and hormonal influences”. One cannot build strong bones when one is older. This has to start from a young age. He feels that a good nutritious diet should be inculcated in a person from childhood itself and followed for the rest of his/her life.
Intake of calcium: It is a well known fact that calcium is important for bone density. If you do not get enough of this mineral every day, either through diet or supplements, there will be a deficiency in your body. This results in the body breaking down the bones to replenish it which ultimately leads to more bone loss. Ensure that you include calcium in your diet. Rich sources of calcium include low dairy products, soy products, certain vegetables like spinach and drumsticks as well as fruits like guavas and bananas.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin which helps the body absorb calcium into the bloodstream. Calcium levels in blood drop when there is an insufficient supply of Vitamin D or the body is depleted of it. Dr. Tapasvi states, “Vitamin D deficiency is rampant in India. After the Middle East, India is the second country where Vitamin D deficiency is very common”.
He feels that Indian women are now more concerned with not exposing themselves to the sun, lest we get a tan. We do not realize the harm we cause ourselves by limiting our exposure to the sun. He suggests exposing the face and palms of a person to the sunlight for about 20 minutes daily. It is recommended that this practice be carried out in the early morning or late evening when the sun’s rays are not harsh.
Exercise: Light weight training helps the bones to retain calcium. Strength training makes the muscle pull on the bone. The result is more bone strength. Keep in mind that strength training also increases flexibility and reduces the chances of falling. Try out any of the strengthening and weight bearing exercises which will help to keep your bones strong. These include running, walking, yoga, Tai chi, water aerobics, climbing stairs, aerobics, dancing, jogging and racquet sports.
Interestingly, a survey on Vietnamese women says, “On the basis of lifelong occupation, office workers and housewives had double the risk of osteoporosis compared with women engaged in heavy work.” This was due to the sedentary nature of their lifestyles. However, if you are involved in a job that requires heavy work, make sure that you get sufficient nutrition too, as another study in India explains that excessive and prolonged physical labour without proper nutrition also increases osteoporosis risk significantly. Essentially it comes down to striking a healthy balance between physical activity and nutrition. Even something as simple as picking up bags of groceries or picking up your young child will not only help to strengthen your bones, but also give you muscle strength.
What else could you do about osteoporosis prevention? Beware of specific lifestyle habits which increase the risk of osteoporosis and falls. These habits may not seem harmful to you but may put you at risk for this disease.
Excessive alcohol consumption: Studies show that having more than two drinks daily is linked to an increased risk of bone loss.
Smoking: Smoking doubles the chance of bone loss and fractures as it reduces the effectiveness of the body’s oestrogen.
Certain medications: Medications that may predispose you to osteoporosis include steroids (these are at the top of the list), drugs used for chemotherapy or drugs used to treat cancer, as well as drugs used for immuno-suppression.
Diseases: Hypothyroidism and uncontrolled diabetes are two diseases that could also lead to osteoporosis.
Health education in India has now improved and more women are now aware of this disease. According to Dr. Tapasvi, “5.4 crore Indians already suffer from this disease. Out of this number, 1 crore have already had an osteoporosis related fracture.” He feels that women in India now consciously ask about osteoporosis and osteoporosis prevention. Do remember that osteoarthritis and osteoporosis are linked, as worn out joints and weak bones lead to deformity and aggravation of the pain that accompanies arthritis.
Now that you are aware of the factors that both contribute to osteoporosis and the steps that you can take to prevent it, start working to prevent it today – the earlier you make the changes, the more you will benefit in the long run.
Melanie Lobo is a freelance writer. She grew up in cities across India but now
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