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  • Ann Hollander

Osteoporosis: What you can do


If you are concerned about a loved one's osteoporosis—brittle bones—it's a good idea to bring this up with the doctor. He or she will likely discuss various medicines that can help. In addition, changes in daily life outlined below can go a long way to making stronger bones. Consider:

Diet: There are two key nutrients.

  • Calcium. The best food sources are low-fat dairy products; dark green leafy vegetables; canned salmon, mackerel, or sardines (with bones); and tofu. Women over age 50 should consume a total of 1200 mg of calcium per day. Men need 1000 mg/day until age 70. Then they too should get 1200 mg/day. A supplement is fine. But be sure to pick a dose that factors in the calcium your relative already receives from food. More than 2000 mg/day may increase the risk of heart disease and kidney stones.

  • Vitamin D. Exposure to sunshine yields vitamin D. But only when sunscreen is not used (no free lunch!). Look for foods such as milk that have been fortified with vitamin D. Or get a supplement. Adults age 51–70 are advised to take 600 international units (iu)/day. Those over age 71 need 800 iu/day. African Americans don't absorb vitamin D well through the skin, so 2000 iu is the recommended supplement. Most people can safely take up to 4000 iu/day.

Strength exercises. Weight-bearing exercise works with gravity to produce strong bones: Brisk walks, hiking, dancing, climbing up stairs. Resistance training also helps: Lifting weights or using exercise bands. Talk to the doctor about the safest way to build up strength.

Lifestyle changes

  • Get up off the couch! A sedentary lifestyle leads to brittle bones.

  • Limit alcohol to no more than two drinks/day. Alcohol kills bone cells and leaches calcium from the bones.

  • Stop smoking. Smokers' bones heal more slowly.

Concerned about brittle bones?

Sometimes it's hard for a relative to prompt an older adult to make diet, exercise, or lifestyle changes. We at Options for Aging understand family dynamics. As the North Shore and Chicago expert in family caregiving, we can help you support but not nag. It's a fine line! Give us a call at 847-868-1445. We're happy to put our expertise to work for you.

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