For decades, doctors have stressed the importance of bone health to women while osteoporosis wasn't regarded as a problem for men. But a new report from the International Osteoporosis Foundation reveals that one in five men over the age of 50 will suffer a fracture due to this bone-deteriorating condition. In fact, men are 27 percent more likely to break a bone because of osteoporosis than they are to get prostate cancer. And according to the report, men are twice as likely as women to die following one of these fractures.
The problem is largely preventable. Take specific steps in your 20s, 30s, and 40s to preserve the bone mass you have, and your skeleton should be in much better shape once you reach retirement age. Bodies build up bone mass in the late teens and 20s when the process plateaus — and bone density then declines. According to Dr. Robert Recker, president of the National Osteoporosis Foundation, this deterioration accelerates around age 50, giving older men a much higher risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
Recker suggests avoiding smoking and drinking more than two alcoholic drinks per day — two things that cause bone deterioration. "Modest drinking doesn't seem to be a problem," he explains. "And while we don't know exactly why having more than two drinks a day affects bone mass, observational studies show that it does."
Next, make sure to get enough calcium — a major component of strong bones. Recker says you're constantly losing calcium through sweat and urine, so you need to replace this mineral daily. "I recommend getting 1,250 mg a day," he says. "Dairy is rich in calcium — an 8-ounce glass of skim milk has 300 mg. The rest of your diet should be able to supply what you need." If you can't have dairy, Recker says you'll need calcium supplements. Vitamin D also helps bone health because it helps your body absorb calcium from food. But getting enough D can be tricky. "We don't normally get adequate vitamin D through diet," Recker says. "And if you live in the northern part of the country, from the beginning of October through the end of March, you get absolutely zero vitamin D from the sun." So although eggs, milk, and fruit juices are often fortified with vitamin D, Recker suggests taking supplements to ensure you're stocked up on the vitamin. "I recommend that everybody take 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day," he says.
Finally, it's important to exercise. By improving muscle strength, balance, and coordination, you'll be less likely to break a bone. But for preserving bone mass specifically, Recker says weight-bearing exercises are best. These include jogging, hiking, playing sports like basketball or tennis, or any workout in which your body has to work against gravity to bear your bodyweight. But take note, swimmers and cyclists: Your sports don't cut it. Don't give them up, just add weight-bearing workouts into the mix.