It is easy to assume that osteoporosis only affects more fragile people but one-in- two women and one-in-five men over 50 will suffer a fracture, mainly due to poor bone health. Around three million people in the UK suffer from osteoporosis.?The condition occurs when the strength of bones, known as bone density, declines, with the result that they become weaker and more likely to break under fairly minimal pressure, such as a fall.

The problem is that you probably won?t know your bone density has declined until you suffer a fracture. Breaks of the wrist, hip and spine are the most common and these can be debilitating, particularly if you?re also coping with other medical conditions or are elderly.?A hip fracture, for example, can mean a long hospital stay and possible loss of independence. Osteoporosis doesn?t happen overnight though. In fact the diet and exercise choices you make throughout your life will have a bearing on your risk once you hit middle age.

So it?s important to think about your bone health at every age and it?s also good to know it?s never too late to take action to improve it.?Why do our bones deteriorate? Specialist cells called osteoclasts break down the old, worn-out bone tissue while other cells, known as osteoblasts, build new tissue.

Until your mid-30s new bone tissue is laid down at about the same rate as the old tissue is broken down. So the amount of bone tissue you have remains steady and your bone density, or strength, is stable.?As you get older however bone starts to break down faster than it can be repaired and restored. Anyone can, of course, break a bone under extreme pressure but it?s this reduction in bone strength that explains why it?s more common for people over the age of 50 to have a fracture more easily.

Focus on calcium This mineral is a must for healthy bones. You need more when you?re breastfeeding otherwise most adults need 800mg daily. If you have a glass of milk, a small pot of yogurt and a matchbox-size piece of Cheddar cheese, you?ll hit that target.?Don?t worry about missing out if you choose reduced-fat dairy products such as skimmed milk or reduced-fat cheese, they contain just as much calcium if not a little more than full-fat ones.

Sardines containing soft bones, dried fruit, nuts (especially almonds), seeds and broccoli are also good sources, along with white flour that?s fortified with calcium.?Bear in mind however that calcium in dairy is more easily absorbed and used by our bodies than the calcium in other foods, so if you don?t eat dairy for any reason speak to your GP or a dietitian about how to get enough in your diet. Remember Vitamin D This vitamin is vital as it helps the body absorb and use calcium.

It?s hard to get enough vitamin D from diet alone because there are only a few foods that naturally contain it. These include oily fish such as salmon, fresh tuna, trout, mackerel and sardines and eggs.?The best way to get more vitamin D is by safe exposure to the sun. In autumn and winter the sun?s rays aren?t strong enough in the UK to make vitamin D. So it?s no surprise that national surveys show the levels in our blood (in all age groups) are highest from July to September and lowest from January to March.

For most fair-skinned people exposing the hands and face for about 15 minutes a few times a week during spring and summer is sufficient, darker skins may need a little longer. Make sure you never go red or burn to avoid increasing your risk of skin cancer.?Vitamin D-fortified foods, such as cereals and yogurts, or a supplement are good ways to top up. The Department of Health recommends a daily 10mcg supplement each day for pregnant and breastfeeding women, people who spend most of their time indoors (elderly people in care homes, for instance) and people who cover their skin when outside.

Walk, jog or dance Exercise is crucial. Activities that involve jumping are particularly good for boosting strength, jogging, brisk walking, dancing, rebounding and Zumba are all bone-friendly options. Experts also recommend resistance training which helps blood flow to your bones. One study in The Journal Of Sports Medicine And Physical Fitness found that low-weight, high-repetition resistance training classes could increase bone density. Watch your BMI Your body mass index should be between 20 and 25.

If it?s too low you?ll have less bone tissue overall which makes osteoporosis more likely. Yet carrying too much weight puts your bones under strain. A study from Harvard Medical School in Boston found some overweight people actually carry fat inside their bones which makes them weaker. It also revealed fat around the middle indicates a higher risk.

By??By Charlotte Haigh Macneil for

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