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Self-help and daily living for osteoporosis

There’s a great deal you can do at different stages in your life to help protect yourself against osteoporosis.

Exercise

Weight-bearing exercise (any activity that involves walking or running) is better for bone strength than non-weight-bearing exercises such as swimming and cycling.

However, all forms of exercise will help to improve co-ordination and keep up muscle strength. This is important because muscle loss as we get older (sarcopaenia) is a risk factor for falling and therefore for fractures. T'ai chi in particular can be very effective in reducing the risk of falls.

Read more about exercise and arthritis and looking after your joints when you have arthritis.

Diet and nutrition

Calcium

The best sources of calcium are:

  • dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt (low-fat ones are best)
  • calcium-enriched types of milk made from soya, rice or oats
  • fish that are eaten with the bones, such as tinned sardines.

Other sources of calcium include:

  • leafy green vegetables such as cabbage, kale, broccoli, watercress
  • beans and chick peas
  • some nuts, seeds and dried fruits.

Read more about the calcium content of different foods.

If you don't eat many dairy products or calcium-enriched substitutes, then you may need a calcium supplement. We recommend you discuss this with your doctor or a dietitian.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb and process calcium and there's some evidence that arthritis progresses more quickly in people who don't have enough vitamin D.

Vitamin D is sometimes called the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because it’s produced by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. A slight lack (deficiency) of vitamin D is quite common in the UK in winter.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) have issued guidance on safe sunlight exposure which aims to balance the benefits of vitamin D against the risks of skin cancer from too much exposure to sunlight.

Vitamin D can also be obtained from some foods, especially from oily fish, or from supplements such as fish liver oil. However, it's important not to take too much fish liver oil.

If you're over 60, dark-skinned or don't expose your skin to the sun very often and are worried about a lack of vitamin D, you should discuss with your doctor whether a vitamin D supplement would be right for you. It's sometimes necessary to take a daily supplement containing 10–20 micrograms (μg) or 400–800 international units (IU) of vitamin D, especially if you're over 60.

For many people, calcium and vitamin D supplements are prescribed together with other osteoporosis treatments.

What else might help?

It's important to try to prevent falls. Simple things you can do at home include:

  • mopping up spills straight away
  • making sure walkways are free from clutter or trailing wires.

Some hospitals also offer falls prevention clinics or support groups – ask your doctor if there's one in your area. 

Smoking can affect your hormones and so may increase your risk of osteoporosis. We strongly recommend you stop smoking. Support is available if you wish to stop.

Drinking a lot of alcohol can affect the production of new bone, so we recommend keeping within the maximum amounts (14 units per week) suggested by the government.

For more information, go to www.arthritisresearchuk.org.
Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.