Osteoporosis (low bone density) is an epidemic in older people that leads to weak bones and a high risk of bone breakage after a fall. It is estimated that over 200 million people worldwide suffer from this disease. Approximately 1 out of 3 of all postmenopausal women have osteoporosis in the United States and in Europe and at least 4 out of 10 of these women and 2 out of 10 of these men will have a bone fracture in their remaining lifetime. We all probably know of older relatives that have broken bones in a fall which can lead to more serious illnesses. So, is lower bone density with age inevitable or can we do something about it?
I would love to be able to tell you that you can avoid osteoporosis by exercising. After all, if we put strain on our bones, surely, they get stronger. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be that simple. Studies on the influence of exercise on bone density show mixed results. Some show a modest increase in bone strength with exercise but others do not.
Part of the reason for this may be that people do not get enough calcium in their diet. Calcium is one building block of bone and people can exercise as much as they like but, without enough calcium, it won’t improve bone strength. It is recommended that adults over 50 should have a daily diet containing 1200 mg of calcium. To make matters worse, there is also an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency. Without vitamin D, the body cannot use calcium in the diet to build bone.
So what should we be doing? There is some evidence that exercise, though not necessarily building bone mass in older people, may slow or halt its decline which may be enough to stave off osteoporosis and the associated risks. So, it makes sense that we should all be exercising in older age and making sure that we have enough calcium and vitamin D to reap any benefit.