Osteoporosis is a bone disease. It occurs when bone density and mass decrease, leading to weakened bones and a higher chance of fractures.

Even minor injuries or falls can cause fractures for those with osteoporosis, and many people don’t know they have the disease until they break a bone. For these reasons, it’s important to learn your risk factors, attend a timely osteoporosis screening, and take necessary safety precautions if you have the diagnosis.

In this article we’ll overview how to stay active and healthy with osteoporosis, existing treatment options, and other steps you can take to lower your risk of fractures.

How common is osteoporosis?

More than 12 percent of U.S. adults over 50 have osteoporosis. The primary risk factors are age, genetics, and sex (women are at higher risk than men).

Around 43 percent of adults over 50 have low bone mass (osteopenia), which can lead to osteoporosis over time.

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It’s important to stay active, even with osteoporosis, but sometimes adjustments to your activity habits are necessary.

To ensure your overall health with osteoporosis, it might be a good idea to limit or cease more high-risk activities. This could include taking a temporary or long-term break from contact sports such as football, rugby, or wrestling. Activities that involve aggressive twisting of your spine, such as golf, may also not be ideal.

Making adjustments to your regular exercise regime doesn’t mean giving up being active. It just means directing your energy to safer activities with higher well-being returns. Talk with a doctor to identify lower-risk physical activities that will strengthen your bones and muscles.

Weight bearing and resistance exercises are the best for the bones, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center.

Exercises recommended for people with osteoporosis include:

  • walking
  • hiking
  • climbing stairs
  • lifting weights

Swimming is also a great source of cardio that strengthens muscles without putting much impact on your bones, meaning it comes with a low risk of fractures.

It’s important to listen to your body. If you’re having pain while working out, or pain that worsens with a specific activity, take a break from it and talk with your doctor.

Your doctor may also suggest working with a personal trainer or physical therapist who specializes in osteoporosis. Everyone’s body is different. Depending on your individual health factors (including age, previous injuries, chronic conditions), a specialist can help design an exercise plan that meets your needs.

Bone health and nutrition are connected, so it’s vital to eat a balanced diet to keep your bones healthy.

Calcium, protein, and vitamin D are all key to supporting bone density and strength. There’s a variety of ways to incorporate all of these into your diet by consuming:

  • fatty fish
  • liver
  • cheese
  • animal protein
  • low-fat dairy products
  • vegetables such as kale and broccoli

Getting enough sunlight is also important for your vitamin D levels. Not getting enough vitamin D from sunlight or your diet can cause a deficiency, which harms your bones (and isn’t good for your mood). Take care to avoid excess rays by protecting your skin and eyes when out in the sun for long periods of time.

Vitamin C is also great for bone health. Many fruits and vegetables are good sources of this vitamin, including oranges, strawberries, and red and green bell peppers. Learn more about vitamin C supplements.

If you want to make adjustments to your diet but don’t know where to begin, consider asking a doctor for a referral to a nutritionist. A nutritionist will listen to your personal goals, assess your current diet, and help you put together a realistic plan that works for your health. Some nutritionists specialize in working with clients who have osteoporosis.

Remember: before adding any new vitamins or supplements to your diet, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor or nutritionist. Always take supplements as directed to avoid toxicity or adverse effects.

When you have osteoporosis, seemingly minor injuries and falls can have an outsized effect on your health. While others may walk away with a bruise, you may receive a fracture, resulting in weeks (or months) of rest and healing. It’s therefore essential to take precautions to limit chances of tripping or losing your balance.

Clutter is a big cause for concern, making it easy to stumble over stray objects. Try to streamline. Organize or store loose items in your living environment, and throw out or donate anything you don’t need. Avoid leaving anything out on the floor to be tripped over, even if it’s just dirty clothes or grocery bags.

Other things you can do to improve safety at home include:

  • cover or treat slippery surfaces
  • wear supportive shoes or sneakers with low heels (and don’t walk around in socks on smooth floors)
  • make sure carpets and rugs have slip-proof mats underneath, or are secured to floor. Or consider removing rugs altogether.
  • make sure your home is well lit, especially stairs
  • have handrails on all staircases, and use railing when going up or down
  • install grab bars in the bathroom near the toilet and in the shower
  • put a rubber bath mat in the shower or tub to avoid falls
  • have a flashlight near your bed (or use your smartphone)

Some people with osteoporosis may require the use of mobility aids, such as a cane, walker, or wheelchair.

Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. We all need help sometimes, and it’s better to be honest about what you need than risk injuring yourself. You may have to consider giving up a little independence to preserve greater independence overall.

When in doubt, ask for help — whether with yard work, groceries, changing lightbulbs, or other chores. Assistance could come in the form of a family member, neighbor, hired caregiver, or volunteer. Talk with your doctor about community or mutual aid resources available to you.

AARP also offers state-specific resources on caregiving.

In order to stay as safe and healthy as possible, managing your osteoporosis with a personalized treatment regimen is important.

Treatment plans can vary depending on your age, menopausal status, medications and supplements you’re taking, and other personal medical factors.

Options for managing osteoporosis include:

  • lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, minimizing alcohol and caffeine intake, starting a safe exercise program, and eating a balanced diet
  • taking prescription medications
    • antiresorptive medications (such as bisphosphonates, estrogen agonist/antagonists, calcitonin, estrogens, and denosumab)
    • anabolic medication (teriperitide)
  • attending physical therapy

Can osteoporosis be prevented?

While there’s no way to 100 percent prevent osteoporosis from happening — due to some risk factors being out of your control — preventive measures absolutely help. Maintaining proper exercise levels and a healthy diet are the most important things you can do to prevent (and to manage) this bone disease.

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When you have osteoporosis, it’s important to stay active and eat well to keep bones and muscles strong. However, having osteoporosis increases change of bone fractures, so you may need to adjust your activity schedule or type as a precaution.

The safety concerns of osteoporosis may demand you declutter your space, step back from more high-intensity exercise, and ask for help with certain tasks. Making modest and targeted lifestyle changes may prevent you from excessive falls and fractures.

Talk with your doctor about setting up, or changing, a plan of care for osteoporosis, and to help identify safety concerns before they interfere with your independence.