Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue, leading to bone weakness and an increased risk of broken bones. The disease often progresses painlessly and remains undetected until a bone breaks. These broken bones, also known as fractures, typically occur in the hip, spine and wrist, but any bone may be affected.

One in two women and up to one in four men over age 50 will suffer a bone break due to osteoporosis in their lifetime. For women that makes osteoporosis more prevalent than heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined. And for men it’s more common than prostate cancer.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) wants people to know that regardless of your age, there are steps you can take to keep your bones healthy. Building, maintaining and protecting your bones as you progress through life is the best way to ensure you stay active and independent as long as possible. Follow NOF’s recommendations below to build healthy bones for life.

Build

Research has shown that building healthy bones during childhood plays a big role in preventing osteoporosis during adulthood. Calcium, vitamin D and exercise are important for everyone, but especially for children and teenagers. It’s critical that young girls and boys do all they can during the peak bone building years, which are nearly complete by age 20.

"Regardless of your age, there are steps you can take to keep your bones healthy."

Maintain

During childhood, the bone bank account is established and just like any savings account, you have to maintain it. Even if you weren’t fortunate enough to inherit the best genes for strong bones, you can still make a difference with a healthy lifestyle program that includes weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercise, adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D, not smoking or drinking too much alcohol and talking to your health care provider about your chance of getting osteoporosis. A bone density test can tell if you have osteoporosis or low bone density. Age 50, or around menopause if you are a woman, is a good time to talk to your health care provider about your risk for osteoporosis and other conditions that tend to occur more often in later life.

Protect

As men and women get older and the production of sex hormones declines, we start making withdrawals from the bone bank. And just like a savings account, if you don’t have enough in the account, problems can occur. If you discover that your bones aren’t as strong as the rest of you, talk to your health care provider about what you can do to prevent bone loss and broken bones. Safety is also a special concern for those with osteoporosis. Falls can increase the likelihood of breaking a bone, so it’s important to be aware of any physical changes that affect balance and discuss these changes with your health care provider. There are steps to take at every stage of life to keep your bones healthy. Don’t wait until you break a bone—ask your health care provider what you can do to stay strong for a lifetime.