How healthy are your bones?

This article is sponsored by Osteoporosis Australia

AS the years slip through your fingers, it's common to forget your bones, in fact two thirds of Australian seniors have poor bone health and don’t even know it.

It’s those funny things in life you cannot see. Sadly, you begin to forget the importance which they bear.

The foundation of your freedom, the footsteps you take each day – all these liberties like your strength and independence could be withering beneath you and you aren’t even aware.

So how are your bones holding up? Do you actually know?                                                                    

Those who don’t know, will understand why osteoporosis got a name as the ‘silent disease’. The type that creeps up on you, gradually over the years without any symptoms showing, until one day you have a fall or take a bone density test realising, that in fact you’re not a strong as you thought you were.   

Osteoporosis can cause crippling effects on the way you live, work and enjoy your life.

The Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Osteoporosis Australia have created a joint initiative for fracture prevention, called Know Your Bones, an online tool to help you understand your risk of bone breaks. 

Osteoporosis Australia’s Endocrinologist, Professor Peter Ebeling, shares some important facts on bone health and how you can stay strong. 

What is osteoporosis? 

“A condition where there is a reduction in bone strength, which means you’re at risk of getting broken bones,” Professor Ebeling said.  

This occurs when bones lose their density and quality, weakening the skeleton and in-turn increasing the risk of fractures.

“The peak bone mass occurs in the 20’s and once you get to 30 the bone density will gradually decrease.”

How serious are broken bones?

Breaking a bone is an immediate and ongoing medical emergency and it typically requires time in hospital, surgery, rehabilitation and often home care.

Broken bones have an impact on both the patient and the family, disrupting their daily life.

Why is bone health so important?

“Looking at your bone health at all stages of life is really important and it starts off in childhood but it’s never too late to do something about your bones,” Professor Ebeling said.

“We know a lot of people in the community don’t understand the importance of bone health.

“The reason for that is, osteoporosis, is a silent disease, you don’t know you’ve got it until you’ve broken a bone.

“Bone health is common problem for everyone and can sometimes fall to the bottom of the list so we want to increase awareness and its importance.

“That’s why we’ve brought in ‘Know your Bones’ because it takes the emphasis away from doctors and puts the power in the hands of the patient so that they can go online and use the calculator, ‘Know your Bones’ to determine if they’re at risk of getting osteoporosis.

“At the end of the evaluation there will be a dial representing the severity of your bone health and if you’re evaluation shows you’re in the red or amber zone you really need to ask your doctor for a bone density test,” Professor Ebeling said.  

The Osteoporosis Australia website is great resource for those seeking information on bone health, risk factors and what they can do to make their bones strong. 

What are the risk factors of osteoporosis?

  • Family history
  • Previous breaks
  • Medical history – certain conditions and medications.
  • Vitamin D deficiency – Exposure to sunlight. (Tuna, salmon and egg yolk contain low levels of Vitamin D)
  • Low calcium intake (milk, yoghurt, cheese, green leafy vegetables, sardines, soy milk is calcium enriched)

Lifestyle factors include:

  • Smoking (increases the risk of breaking a bone by 29% and suffering a hip fracture by 68%)
  • Low levels of physical activity 
  • Excessive alcohol consumption (no more than 2 standard drinks a day)
  • Weight – thin body build or excessive weight 

So how do you diagnose osteoporosis? 

A Bone Mineral Density Test

“It’s a very simple test - you lie on a flat table and a scanner passes over your body, which only takes a few minutes. This examines how strong your bones are in your spine, lower spine and the hip – these are the most common regions,” Professor Ebeling said.

The result from this test is known as your T-score.

A T-score of -2.5 or less means a diagnosis of osteoporosis.

If you are found to have osteopenia your bone density will range in between normal and osteoporosis, meaning you need to take care of your bones so that they don’t get any worse and fall into the osteoporosis range.

Who is most susceptible to osteoporosis?

"Women after menopause are the largest group at risk as bone density decreases just after menopause.

“So that’s a really good time in life for the average woman to think about their bone health, consider the risk factors and take a bone density test, particularly if they’re not taking hormonal replacement therapy,” Professor Ebeling said.  

When oestrogen levels decrease, bones lose calcium and other minerals at a much faster rate. As a result a bone loss of approximately 2% per year occurs for several years after menopause.

“People with chronic liver disease, conditions affecting the glands (thyroid) and other conditions like coeliac disease or wheat intolerances can also be at risk of osteoporosis.

“Another common cause can be people using steroid drugs for the treatment of asthma or inflammatory bowel diseases and other conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, which affects large groups of our community.”  

“Women on breast cancer treatments and men going on prostate cancer treatment are both at risk as oestrogen and testosterone levels are both reduced to zero,” Professor Ebeling said.    

What exercises can help my bones?

“Regular weight bearing exercise, progressive resistance training with weight work or machines, particularly the upper body will help the spine and preserve bone strength.

“Walking really isn't enough – you need to have moderate impact on the bones. Exercise such as skipping, dancing, climbing stairs or playing sports like tennis can be helpful. Swimming and cycling don't particularly help your bones because they're not weight bearing,” Professor Ebeling said.

“Tai chi promotes balance and has been shown to reduce the risk of falling. Sometimes it's good to see an exercise physiologist to give you a prescription of exercises that will help your bones.”

Professor Ebeling is proud to say ‘Know your Bones’ just celebrated their 1st birthday

“This has been a great initiative and we’ve had over 75,000 people complete the assessment, so people are using this information,” Professor Ebeling said. 

So for those who are unsure, it’s time to take charge of your bone health by taking the ‘Know Your Bones’ online assessment. START NOW 

This article is sponsored by Osteoporosis Australia