Special Feature “ Health & Exercise Forum” with Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine the 3rd Monday of every month!
Guest Columnist: Ian Coote
Ian Coote, MD3 originally from Rogersville, PA is a third-year medical student at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. Ian majored in Biological Sciences at Ohio Northern University before graduating in 2015. He hopes to pursue a career in emergency medicine upon graduating from GCSOM.
Growing old is one of life’s inevitabilities. While growing old is something we all hope to achieve, as we age our bodies start to wear down. Many people start to have more aches and pains as they grow older which can seriously impact their happiness and overall quality of life. It is important for us to take care of our bodies when we are young and to continue to take care of ourselves as we get older. Knowing how to care for our health and being aware of some the things to watch out for as we age is essential. One of the more common issues that people experience as they age is problems with their bones, specifically osteoporosis.
As mentioned earlier, individuals with osteoporosis are at an increased risk for developing bone fractures. Healthy bones are stiff enough to endure the pressure exerted on them by normal activity such as walking and lifting things. They are also flexible enough to bend and stretch somewhat which allows them to avoid shattering like glass. Individuals whose bones have been damaged by osteoporosis are weak and brittle, and so are unable to withstand pressure nor are they able to flex without shattering. Fractures in people with osteoporosis occur under low-impact circumstances. Falls from a sitting or standing position to the floor can result in hip fractures. Wrist fractures are also common in low-impact falls. Being jostled in the car by hitting potholes or simply lifting a box that is a little too heavy can cause vertebral fractures. Fractures due to osteoporosis often cause sharp or dull nagging pain in the area of the fracture that is made worse with movement. People with fractures due to osteoporosis often chose not to move or do much at all for fear of making their pain worse. Immobility can lead to a host of other medical problems such as blood clots and pneumonia.
There are a number of medications designed to prevent fractures related to osteoporosis from occurring. Many drug classes are aimed at decreasing the bone reabsorbing activity of the osteoclasts. Bisphosphonates are one such class that bind to a component of bone called hydroxyapatite and when taken up by osteoclasts they inhibit osteoclast activity. Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) are a class of drug that act similarly to natural estrogen and inhibit the activity of osteoclasts. Other classes of drugs focus on increasing the activity of the bone building osteoblasts. These classes are designed to mimic parathyroid hormone (PTH) which is a chemical that is involved in the production of bone. Supplementation of the vitamins and minerals that make up bone such as vitamin D and calcium has also been shown to slow the rate of bone loss.
There are simple things we can do in our daily lives that can prevent some of the aches and pains that are so common in our elderly population. Eating a diet rich in the vitamins and minerals that our bones need to grow strong and repair themselves is one step we can take. Calcium and vitamin D are essential components to bone health and can be found in dairy products such as low-fat milk and yogurt. Fresh fruits and vegetables provide a number of other vital building blocks of healthy bones including vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium. People who eat healthy amounts of seafood like salmon or tuna have been shown to have stronger bones than those who do not eat seafood. Studies have shown that both men and women who eat healthy amounts of dairy products, seafood, and lots of fruits and vegetables have significantly stronger bones and have lower rates of bone loss as they age.
Eating the things that aid bone health is very important, however, it is just as important to avoid excessive amounts of the things that hurt our bones. High levels of salt in our diet are linked to a number of poor outcomes such as weaker bones, high blood pressure, and poor heart health. Processed foods like hot dogs, TV dinners, fast foods, and canned soups are very high in salt and should be limited. Many soft drinks contain a substance called phosphoric acid which can actually cause our bodies to lose the calcium that makes up strong healthy bones. Tobacco use is harmful to many of the organ systems that keep our bodies strong including our bones.
Sedentary lifestyles have been shown to cause poor bone health. Regular exercise is important for many aspects of our health including our heart, brain, and bones. Low impact activities like walking, swimming, or aerobics are great ways to stay healthy without causing joint pain. Regular exercise strengthens our muscles which can help decrease pain and lowers the risk of fractures. Strong muscles help with balance and improve posture which decreases the likelihood of falling. In addition to improving overall fitness, exercise also helps with weight loss. Being overweight increases the force exerted on our bones and so can increase the risk of fractures in people with osteoporosis.
Next Week: Special feature… Exercises for the Prevention of Osteoporosis
Read Dr. Mackarey’s Health & Exercise Forum – every Monday. This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.