Protect yourself from ‘the silent thief’

Weight-bearing exercises, as well as calcium and vitamin D, may slow bone loss from osteoporosis

Article content

When Carol Harvey went to the theater one winter’s day, she stepped on a piece of ice and flew up before hitting the ground.

Advertisement 2

Article content

She escaped with a huge bruise, which was very fortunate because Harvey is one of millions of Canadians who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones.

She was diagnosed about two decades ago when she was in her 60s, but Harvey was unaware that the disease was affecting her bone density because she didn’t know she had it. Her doctor diagnosed her with a scan, and put her on a simple but committed plan to keep it at bay.

“I just made some minor changes to my lifestyle, like stopping swimming and walking, which was easy because I already had a dog,” Harvey explains.

One in three women and one in five men will be diagnosed with osteoporosis.

“It’s pretty common,” says Dr. Famida Jiwa, President and CEO of Osteoporosis Canada. “Two million Canadians are affected by osteoporosis.”

Advertisement 3

Article content

The disease creeps in and quietly wreaks havoc, usually long before a diagnosis is made — earning its nefarious reputation as “the silent thief.”

“It’s the type of disease that unfortunately has no symptoms until someone breaks a bone,” Jiwa says. “Bone loss occurs without symptoms and usually becomes structurally weaker.”

People are better positioned if they know what puts them at risk, ranging from being over 50 to a history of a previous fracture (especially over 40), where both parents have a hip fracture and are female.

Armed with knowledge about personal vulnerability, people can make lifestyle changes.

That includes not smoking or drinking excessively, getting enough calcium and vitamin D, and doing weight-bearing exercises, all in a standing position applying pressure to the bone.

Advertisement 4

Article content

When people are saving and planning for retirement, breaking a hip is not part of the plan, although unfortunately for some with this disease, it can be something they face. That’s why Osteoporosis Canada provides both practical resources and emotional support to Canadians from coast to coast.

“When we talk about a diagnosis, it can be devastating for people, especially (when it’s) more life-affecting, since they’re diagnosed after a fracture and suddenly your ability to do your daily activities is compromised,” Jiwa says. . “With the aging demographic, I think osteoporosis is going to become an even more important health problem to address…but with proper diagnosis and treatment, people can live well with osteoporosis.”

Advertisement 5

Article content

Jiwa says reducing the impact of the disease also depends on increasing education for both the general public and health care providers to ensure that men and women are assessed for bone health.

“Men are significantly underdiagnosed and undertreated,” she says. “People don’t usually think of men when they think of osteoporosis.”

The DEXA scan, which measures bone density, is just one approach in a comprehensive risk assessment that has shifted to additional tools over the decades.

“During my time at Osteoporosis Canada, I have seen many changes, namely the trend towards fracture risk assessment and the identification of people at the highest risk of fractures,” Jiwa says.

Treatment can range from lifestyle changes to therapeutic options and, she says, disease progression can be slowed down with a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, in addition to weight-bearing exercise and medication when indicated.

While Harvey is careful to avoid falling, doing regular weight-bearing workouts and taking calcium supplements, her focus is on embracing life despite the illness.

“I walk a lot and have taken some long walks as a result,” she says.

Later this year, she and her husband will take a weeklong hike at Hadrian’s Wall in the UK, where they will hike up to 14 miles per day.

Take the quiz at to learn more about your risk of osteoporosis.

This story was created by Content Works, the commercial content division of Postmedia.

Advertisement 1


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively yet civilized discussion forum and encourages all readers to share their thoughts on our articles. It can take up to an hour for comments to be moderated before appearing on the site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We’ve enabled email notifications – you’ll now receive an email when you get a reply to your comment, there’s an update to a comment thread you’re following, or a user follows comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Leave a Comment