(StatePoint) When you were young, you may have wanted to be "bad to the bone." As you age, you need to make sure your bones don't go bad.
Unfortunately, there are many myths about osteoporosis, a condition in which bones weaken and can break from a minor fall or even from a simple action such as a sneeze. It's a major threat for approximately 44 million Americans, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), but most don't know they are at risk or how to prevent it.
"Bone health affects overall health," points out bone expert Dr. Warren Levy, CEO of Unigene Laboratories (UGNE), a biopharmaceutical company. "For example, a new study recently confirmed that older people who break a hip have nearly a 25 percent chance of dying in the next five years."
"The good news is there are steps that can be taken to protect your bones as you age. Get lots of calcium and vitamin D, avoid smoking and excessive alcohol or caffeine, and do regular weight-bearing exercises. Medications also make sense for many people," he adds.
Here are five common misperceptions about bone health:
* It's A Women's Problem: Both women and men lose bone density as they age. A man older than 50 is more likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis than to get prostate cancer, according to the NOF. And some researchers are predicting a 56 percent increase in incidence of male osteoporotic fractures.
* You'll Know It If You Have It: People can't feel their bones weakening. They may not know they have osteoporosis until a bone breaks from a minor fall or a simple action like a sneeze. Talk to your doctor to see if a simple bone density test is appropriate.
* Bone Medications Have No Side Effects: We've all seen osteoporosis drug ads targeting older women. Golden sunsets and women exercising or playing with grandkids can obscure the fact that some of these medications have been associated with potentially dangerous side effects like severe bone degeneration over time, muscle or joint pain, heart problems, cancer and kidney failure. The focus should be on selecting drugs that can help osteoporosis patients without creating these risks, and patients should educate themselves regarding the available options, stresses Levy.
* Exercise Can Hurt: Many are afraid exercise can harm their bones, especially as they age. Weight-bearing exercises are very effective at building bones even for those who have advanced osteoporosis. Such exercises include lifting weights, climbing stairs, aerobics, dancing, jogging and tennis. Check with your doctor to see which exercises are most appropriate for you.
* Family History Doesn't Matter: Genetics and heredity greatly influence a person's risk of developing osteoporosis. If either of your parents had osteoporosis or a history of broken bones, you're more at risk. If one had a spine that curved forward or noticeable height loss, osteoporosis might have been the cause.
"Maintaining healthy bones isn't just about preventing painful symptoms. It's important for maintaining a good quality of life as you age, so take good care of your bones," says Dr. Levy.