It’s a shocking reality that women may lose up to a fifth of their bone density in the seven years after entering menopause, as a result of their falling oestrogen levels.
Why do healthy bones matter?
The first thing to understand is that while this bone density loss happens soon after menopause, the ill effects aren’t felt until much later, in our seventies and eighties, when we start to experience the effects of osteoporosis. The National Osteoporosis Society calculates that 1400 bone breaks happen every day in the UK as a result of osteoporosis – that’s a lot of pain, cost and suffering, much of which can be avoided.
While we can’t prevent bone density loss entirely, keeping bone strength high is easy, and fits well with many other activities that are recommended for women in menopause for example exercise and dietary changes.
Keeping osteoporosis at bay
Osteopenia is a mid-stage between strong and healthy bones and osteoporosis. It’s diagnosable through a bone density scan which establishes the quantity of bone tissue present. There’s another way of measuring bone strength which is the quality of bone tissue, but that’s less easy to establish. Together they reveal the overall strength of the bone. If you’re diagnosed with osteopenia, you’ll be advised to change your lifestyle to:
Being active is your best insurance for strong bones. Activities such as cycling, brisk walks, tennis, dancing and jogging should be undertaken for at least two and a half hours every week. When you add some resistance exercise such as using machines at a gym, lifting free weights or bodyweight resistance like press ups, squats and planks, you give your body a complete defence against inactivity – and that’s good for every part of you, not just your bones.
Cutting back on processed food and increasing your consumption of calcium (green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, dried fruit, tinned fish and dairy) and vitamin D (oily fish, eggs and low fat spread with added vitamins) is the way to go. Out with salt, fizzy drinks, and caffeine (which actually leaches calcium from the bones) and income salmon, almonds and calcium-fortified breakfast cereals.
Limit alcohol and nicotine intake
We all know about nicotine, and if we needed one more reason to give it up, the fact that it literally destroys our bones might be it. Alcohol too is a baddie for bone density. While moderate drinking won’t harm your bone health, over-drinking stops your body absorbing calcium and interferes with Vitamin D production.
Get some sun!
Sunlight helps your body store vitamin D, which is also found in oily fish, whole eggs, and spreads or breakfast cereals fortified with vitamins. A brisk walk outdoors is enough to boost Vitamin D levels.
Osteoporosis prevention in a nutshell
So stronger bones help us live happier and for longer and the prescription for better bone health fits perfectly with all the other guidance for managing menopause. The one difference is that working on bone health means we’ll still be benefitting from our investment in ourselves thirty, forty or even fifty years down the line!