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What You Need to Know About Your Bone Health

That's right, T-score. If you had to think twice about what a T-score is - and no, it's not a golf term - chances are you probably don't know your bone mineral density (BMD) levels, or you haven't been tested. Don't worry, you're not alone.

Bones. Bone mineral density. T-score. Yes, you should add those to that list of health factors you need to be concerned about so that you can enjoy lifelong health and an active lifestyle.

If you want to shop 'til you drop, golf 'til your legs ache and line dance 'til you're 84 - knowing that your bones won't let you down - here's what you need to know.

Until a few years ago, many conditions - such as osteoporosis - were considered "old people's" diseases. Today we know differently. Steps to improve bone health start at an early age. Weak bones can affect individuals of all ages.

The T-score reveals whether bones are weak or strong, and what the chances are for breaking one of them. If you thought brittle bones are a natural part of aging, please think again.

Knowing what a T-score is and what "bone health" means are  important first steps. If you or your health care professional have concerns about your bone health, a T-score will help you learn how strong your bones are and whether you need to take action. How do you find out your T-score? A simple, painless BMD test - which takes less than 20 minutes - will provide the answer.

So let's get started. This booklet is part of an educational program, sponsored by the U.S. Bone and Joint Initiative, to help you learn more about your bone health and the early detection, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of osteoporosis.

Why Should You Be Concerned?

We want you to be Fit to a T ™ so that you can enjoy good bone health.

Whether you are in your 20s, 40s or 70s, it's not too early or too late to make changes in your diet, exercise program and lifestyle to strengthen your bones.

If Americans don't take action, by the year 2020, half of all persons older than age 50 will be at risk for fractures related to osteoporosis and low-bone mass, according to the U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis.

One common myth is that osteoporosis only happens in Caucasian women. The fact is that it affects men and women of all races and ages. Another myth is that only seniors have brittle bones that break. Although weaker bones are more common in older people, certain factors that lead to weaker bones are important at all ages. And even younger people can suffer from broken bones related to osteoporosis.

The truth is that osteoporosis and other bone diseases can lead to a poor quality of life - causing pain, loss of mobility and independence, and even death.

Here is the Good News.

By learning more about osteoporosis, focusing on prevention and taking action, you can alter the course of the disease. Three things that you can do to improve your bone health and make your bones stronger are to take in enough calcium and vitamin D and get enough physical activity every day.

With that in mind, Americans can have strong bones and live healthy, independent and fulfilling lives - and be Fit to a T.

Warning Signs

A Broken Bone: A broken bone (fracture) as an adult does not always mean you have osteoporosis - but it could be a warning sign that your bones are weak, especially if the break is from normal activities or during a minor fall.

Back Pain or Spinal Deformities: Back pain that will not quit could be a sign that you have a spinal fracture. This occurs when bones in your back become so weak that they fracture and collapse.

Loss of Height: A fractured bone in your spine could collapse onto itself causing you to shrink. Multiple fractures can cause the spine to form a curve causing the disfigurement known as a "dowager's hump."

How Do You Build Strong Bones?

Daily physical activity and a diet with enough calcium and vitamin D can help prevent osteoporosis, according to the U.S. Surgeon General's Report.

Let's Get Physical

Building strong bones begins with daily exercise of at least 60 minutes for children and 30 minutes for adults. Children should know that building bone density in youth is an investment in the future. The best types of exercises for healthy bones are weight-bearing and strength-building activities. Jogging, tennis and walking are types of weight-bearing activities. They are important because they force muscles and bones to work against gravity and they put stress on the limbs. Strength-building exercises - which lead to stronger muscles and bone - include weight-lifting, calisthenics and resistance machines. Exercises, such as Tai Chi, are good because they can help improve your balance, and decrease your risk of falling.

Before you start an exercise program, or if you have osteoporosis, check in first with your physician or other healthcare professional. Individuals with low bone mass may need to skip certain exercises to avoid medical problems, such as breaking a bone.

Your Body Needs Calcium

Calcium is a building block of bone and is key to having strong bones. Based upon your age, your body needs different amounts of calcium.

Children and young adults generally need more calcium because their bodies are developing. Young adults between ages 9 and 18 need more calcium than any other age group - 1,300 milligrams per day.

Men and women over age 50 and postmenopausal women also need a higher intake of calcium. They need about 1,200 to 1,500 mg of calcium daily. Dairy products and milk are high in calcium; non-dairy foods such as leafy green vegetables, soybeans and salmon also contain calcium but in a lesser amount. If you have problems digesting lactose, which is in dairy products, you may need to take a calcium supplement. Talk with your physician or other healthcare professional before starting a supplement, and about the appropriate amount for you.

Vitamin D and Your Bone Health

Individuals need vitamin D to help their bodies absorb calcium from the gastrointestinal tract and to keep bones strong and healthy. The older you become, the more of this vitamin you need. Where does vitamin D come from? The vitamin can be synthesized in skin from exposure to the sun or ingested in foods such as fortified dairy products, egg yolks, fish (i.e., salmon, mackerel and tuna), liver or in supplements. Consult your physician or other healthcare professional for the appropriate dosage for you. Click here for more information about Vitamin D and Your Bone Health.

How Do You Treat Osteoporosis?

If you have low bone mass but no fractures, you and your healthcare professional will put together a treatment plan to stop further bone loss and prevent fractures. If you have had one or more fractures due to osteoporosis, your physician or healthcare professional will work with you to prevent further breaks, reduce pain, improve your bone health, keep you active and enhance your quality of life.