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I thought I heard that it is better to live in a warmer climate to prevent osteoporosis. Is that true?

Warm weather would not prevent osteoporosis. There would be no mechanism for it to do that. In fact, the rates of hip fractures are higher among southern states in the United States, probably due to the higher percentage of older individuals living in those areas. However, there are some advantages to warmer climates when it comes to preventing and treating osteoporosis.

For example, a warmer climate usually means being outside more. Although you are likely to get more exposure to sunshine (Question 51), the amount of sun exposure needed to provide enough vitamin D is too variable to count on for your daily dose of vitamin D. Additionally, most clinicians recommend regular use of sun block. So, use sun block regularly and take a vitamin D supplement daily.

Warmer climates make it easier for you to exercise outdoors. You are much more likely to walk outside when the weather is warmer year-round. This would give you incentive to get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. Exercise, as you know by now, is critical to keeping your bones strong. Sometimes cold weather can make chronic conditions, such as arthritis, feel worse. Increased pain may prevent you from getting your necessary exercise (see Question 96).

If you don't have snow and ice to worry about, you're much less likely to fall, at least outside during the winter. That's certainly a big relief for people who have watched their every step in slippery conditions!

I'm 60years old. Is it really worth it to start exercising now? Will exercise at my age help prevent osteoporosis?

Absolutely! Exercising will help you no matter how old you are. Although exercise has been encouraged for many years as part of a healthy lifestyle, we are just beginning to quantify its positive effects on heart disease, obesity, diabetes, menopausal symptoms, and of course osteoporosis. It is never too late to incorporate regular exercise into your lifestyle. It's easy for us to say that we're too old to begin exercising at our age, but that is not true.

If you don't already have osteoporosis or osteopenia, exercise is still important even though exercise alone doesn't prevent bone loss. When you are well past the first 4 to 8 years after menopause, during which the greatest amount of bone loss occurs, and if you don't have osteoporosis, you are less likely to develop osteoporosis. If you are only a few years into post-menopause, you may still lose enough bone to be diagnosed with osteoporosis later. Regardless of how many years you are past menopause, get moving! And if you're a man, you should get moving, too. Men don't have to worry about estrogen loss with menopause, but they are still growing older, and that means bone loss.

Because your fracture risk is not only dependent on bone mineral density but also on bone quality, exercising regularly can strengthen your bones and possibly increase both density and quality. Exercise improves balance and coordination, reducing your risk of falling and also of fracture. It's always worthwhile to begin an exercise program after making sure that you have had a recent physical exam to rule out any conditions or abnormalities that would prevent you from engaging in regular exercise. You should start a program of exercise very slowly to build stamina and strength over time (see Question 45).

What's the likelihood that I will die from osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis itself will not be the direct cause of your death, but it can certainly contribute to an earlier-than-expected death. Your risk of dying following a hip fracture is up to 4 times more likely than peers in your age group who have not fractured a hip. In fact, 65,000 women die every year following a hip fracture. Women outnumber men when it comes to hip fractures, but men are more likely to die as a result of a hip fracture. In addition, if you do sustain a fracture, which is the most devastating result of osteoporosis, your quality of life can be markedly decreased. Many people who fracture a hip enter a nursing home in order to receive continuing care, and never regain their independence. Many end up dying in the nursing home.

With life expectancy increasing, the federal government is making recommendations in an effort to help you live out your years in a more healthful manner. By 2010, it is expected that 12 million men and women over the age of 50 will have osteoporosis, and a remarkable 40 million will have osteopenia. Preserving your bone health can help prevent osteoporosis and the fractures that can cause early death. Healthy People 2010, an initiative from the Department of Health and Human Services, challenges Americans to improve their health by engaging in activities that promote their overall well-being. Some of the challenges relate directly to bone health, such as avoiding tobacco and alcohol, as well as increasing activity and eating a healthy diet. For example, one of the goals of Healthy People 2010 is to reduce the percentage of adult Americans who smoke by half (from 24% to 12%). Another goal is to double the percentage of adults who exercise 30 minutes daily from 15% to 30%.

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