Osteoporosis vs OsteoarthritisOsteoporosis vs Osteoarthritis

Senior health experts say staying active is a key to healthy aging, because exercise and proper eating can reduce the likelihood of mobility-reducing bone loss and arthritis. People who already have osteoporosis or osteoarthritis may also benefit from making positive lifestyle changes. Here are the most common recommendations for prevention and treatment.

Who gets osteoporosis?

More than 40 million people in the US have osteoporosis or are at high risk. Women are more likely than men to lose bone mass with age, but both genders are affected. People with certain medical conditions, such as anorexia nervosa and undiagnosed celiac disease, are at higher risk even at younger ages. Among older adults, risk factors include small stature, thinness, Caucasian and Asian ancestry, a family history of the disease, inactivity, poor calcium intake, and smoking.

Who gets osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis — painful cartilage damage and reduced joint mobility — is the most common type of arthritis, especially among older people. Everyone’s risk rises with age, but people with a history of joint injuries or repetitive joint stress, and overweight people are particularly at risk. Although it’s possible for people to develop both osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, research indicates that osteoarthritis patients are less likely than average to also suffer bone density loss.

Eating habits for healthier bones and joints

Eating fresh fruits and vegetables helps your body absorb calcium for bone maintenance. It’s also crucial to make sure you’re taking in enough calcium to begin with: 1200 mg per day for women over 50 and men over 70; 1000 mg per day for men between 50 and 70. Vitamin D is part of the equation, too. The National Institutes of Health recommends at least 600 international units daily for adults age 51 to 70 and 800 IUs per day for older people.

The fresh produce that helps build bones is also recommended to reduce arthritis inflammation. Whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, and lean protein all contribute to bone density and reduce joint inflammation.  Glucosamine sulfate dietary supplements are likely effective at reducing knee pain caused by osteoarthritis.

Exercise for bone density and range of motion

Exercise recommendations vary by patient, based on age, the extent of bone loss or joint pain, and other factors. Weight-bearing exercises likes walking, jogging, and lifting weights helps keep bones healthy, while low-stress yoga and tai chi can help with joint mobility. If you already have bone loss or joint issues, ask your doctor about safe exercise options.

Medical help for bone and joint issues

There are a number of hormone treatments and drugs available to stop and even reverse bone loss. For osteoarthritis, treatment focuses on pain relief with over-the-counter medicines or prescription painkillers. For both conditions, physical therapy and special exercises may offer improvement, as may acupuncture, massage, and meditation.

Finally, because bone loss can happen without symptoms, the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends bone density testing for women at age 65 and men at age 70, with earlier scans for anyone over 50 who breaks a bone, loses height, or has osteoporosis risk factors.

Eating well and exercising to the best of your ability are the main ways to reduce your risk of bone fractures and joint pain. But remember that your doctor and physical therapist can help get you moving again, too.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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