Our bones provide the structure for our bodies, store calcium and phosphorous, and anchor our muscles. They protect our brains, our hearts, our lungs and other important organs and they allow us to move. And yet, bone health is a relatively under-discussed topic – and something that should be much more highly prioritized – particularly by women who are more prone to bone loss than men as they age.
Osteoporosis is a serious condition that results in bone density reduction with aging. It can cause bones to become brittle and more susceptible to fracture and breakage. Some bone density loss is normal with age, but osteoporosis causes advanced bone weakness and is a condition in which new bone creation doesn’t keep up with old bone removal – a process the body goes through naturally during our life.
“Osteoporosis is a condition that significantly weakens the bones. Mild stresses like coughing or a small bump can lead to bone breakage. Osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bone’ – and post-menopausal women are most at risk. It’s important to understand that you can take a few steps now to contribute to better bone health later in life,” says Dr. Vonda Wright, one of the 6% female orthopedic surgeons in the United States.
Dr. Wright is a double board-certified orthopedic sports medicine surgeon who has cared for the bone and joint health of athletes and active individuals of all ages since 1999. With particular expertise in shoulder, hip and knee arthroscopy, Dr. Wright currently serves as inaugural Chief of Sports Medicine at the Northside Hospital Orthopedic Institute and President of the Atlanta Chapter of the American Heart Association.
Dr. Wright advises that these steps include ensuring you have a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Calcium builds stronger bones among many other health benefits. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and supports your muscles to help prevent falls. She also advises quitting smoking and cutting back on alcohol consumption as both decrease bone density. Staying active and engaging in weight-bearing exercises can also help maintain bone mass. For women over 65 Dr. Wright recommends scheduling a bone density scan – something she also recommends for women over 50 who have a family history of osteoporosis or who have previously fractured a bone.
Dr. Wright explains that menopausal or post-menopausal Caucasian women, those with low body weight or a small frame, those with poor nutrition, smokers, and those with parents who have a history of fractures and bone breaks are at the greatest risk of osteoporosis.
“The good thing is that it is possible for you to improve your bone health, and it’s never too late to begin. Proper nutrition is hugely important and involves making sure you’re following appropriate intake guidelines for calcium and vitamin D,” suggests Dr. Wright.
Dr. Wright emphasizes that exercising to strengthen weight-bearing muscles can help prevent falls that lead to fractures. Furthermore, if you’re a smoker or you consume significant quantities of alcohol, you should try to quit now. Smoking hastens bone loss and alcohol interferes with your body’s ability to absorb calcium and vitamin D.
An author of five popular books filled with research-backed recommendations and written in an easygoing and accessible style, Dr. Vonda Wright has built her career around helping her patients and readers (particularly women) age well; optimize their mobility; and live vital, active, and happy lives. To date, she has published Fitness After 40, 50, 60 and Beyond: How to Stay Strong at Any Age; Guide to THRIVE: 4 steps to Body, Brains & Bliss; Younger in 8 weeks; and Masterful Care of the Aging Athlete.
In addition to being a sought-after keynote speaker, Dr. Wright is often quoted by leading news outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, and U.S. News & World Report, as well as in magazines such as Maxim, Prevention, Fitness, MORE, Runner’s World, Best Life, and Arthritis Today. She has also been featured in numerous online publications and magazines.
Dr. Wright is the CEO and Founder of Women’s Health Conversations, a health education and innovation organization that connects millions of women who are now able to make educated health and wellbeing choices because of the live events, and online network provided by this organization. She has also developed a B2C innovation platform for millennials called “HOT for your Health.”
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to know whether you have osteoporosis. Most patients don’t show any symptoms and it often goes undiagnosed until after a fracture or bone breakage. The most common fractures happen in the vertebrae. These can be picked up on a chest X-ray that is sometimes conducted for another health issue – like a lung condition.
“If you’re worried you might be a candidate for an osteoporosis diagnosis, ask your primary care physician when it is suitable to begin screening,” says Dr. Wright. “And, make sure you enquire about dietary changes and supplements. You might also want to ask about bone density screening – particularly if you have a family history of osteoporosis.”