Updated 24 March 2014

6 lifestyle triggers for broken bones

Lifestyle choices you make now could have a huge effect on your bone health and how well you get around a few decades from now.

No one ever thinks they’re really going to grow old. The last thing on your mind when you’re in your teens and twenties is what your life will be like in a few decades. Yet so many women wish they could turn back the clock and just be a little kinder to themselves.

The harsh truth is that one in two women will suffer from an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime. And it doesn’t happen exclusively to post-menopausal women – it affects younger women and men too. Osteoporosis is a condition in which bone density decreases and become more likely to fracture.

Read more: the A-Z on osteoporosis

There are many things that contribute to loss of bone density (which in turn can lead to fractures).  Some are purely genetic, whereas others are definitely life-style related.
These six things below can put you in a high-risk group for osteoporotic fractures:

Alcohol abuse
While there are many studies that suggest that moderate drinking is beneficial to people’s health, there are also many studies that show that binge drinking  has catastrophic effects on everyone.  

The South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence recommends that men should not exceed 21 units of alcohol per week and women14 units. It is internationally recommended that all people should have at least two alcohol-free days per week. Excessive alcohol intake inhibits the calcium balance in your body and can also affect hormone levels. It also follows that people who abuse alcohol are more likely to fall than those who don’t.

Read more: One drink could land you in jail

Heavy smoking. Smokers tend to absorb less calcium from their diets, placing them at risk for osteoporosis. Smoking isn’t only bad for your bones, it also places great strain on your heart and your lungs.The more you smoke, the greater your risk for a fracture. Fractures also take longer to heal in smokers than in non-smokers.Women who smoke also experience menopause earlier and produce less oestrogen, which contributes to low bone density.

Read more: Stop smoking

Malnutrition. Sufficient and balanced nutrition plays a big role in the building and maintenance of strong bones. If someone eats an unbalanced diet, or has an eating disorder/is underweight, they are most likely to have calcium and phosphorus deficiencies and also lack magnesium, zinc, iron and several vitamins (A, K, C, E and D). This is a problem for women of all ages. Insufficient calcium intake in adolescence can have long-term effects on bone density.

Read more: Are you eating enough calcium?

Sedentary lifestyle. Moderate exercise for even 30 minutes a day can make a huge difference to everyone’s health. A lack of physical activity can lead to significant bone loss and loss of muscle. In people who are chronically immobilised (people in comas, people confined to wheelchairs, people who are bedridden) for whatever reason, the risk for osteoporosis increases.

Read more: 20 good reasons to get moving

Excessive exercise plus low energy intake. While moderate exercise is good for bone density, excessive exercise, such as that done by female endurance athletes has the opposite effect. Not only does this put strain on the bone structure, but can also suppress menstruation, leading to hormonal imbalances. Some anorexics also tend to over-exercise and this, coupled with low energy intake can increase the chances for osteoporotic fractures later in life.

(;; National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa)

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Healthy Bones

Tereza is the CEO of the National Osteoporosis Foundation and worked as a Nursing Sister in the field of Osteoporosis for 18 years prior to her appointment with the Foundation. She used to be the Educational Officer for the Foundation and co-wrote the patient brochure on Osteoporosis. Read more

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