Half of all women and every fifth man over the age of 50 are at risk for osteoporosis, according to Dr. Abhijit Kanthala Reddy of Redmond Regional Medical Center.

It’s called a silent disease because the first outward sign is a broken bone — usually a hip, wrist or spine. After that, it’s downhill from there.

“After the first one, you have five times the risk of another. With two or more, there’s 12 times the risk. It’s like a domino effect,” said Dr. Daniel Webb, a Harbin Clinic neurosurgeon.

Reddy and Webb were among the speakers last week at an osteoporosis workshop sponsored by the Women’s Information Network at Georgia Northwestern Technical College.

About 70 women and men learned about why bones get weaker over time, how to slow down the process and what to do when you’re diagnosed.

Dr. Michelle Strickland, a sports medicine physician at Floyd Medical Center, explained the importance of getting tested for bone density and fracture risk. She emphasized that calcium, Vitamin D, the right kind of exercise and fall-proofing your home are all positive steps to take — to prevent and, with medication, to treat the disease.

“Once you have osteoporosis, that diagnosis is yours for life, but your numbers will improve” if you follow the right regimen,” Strickland said.

While calcium supplements are widely available, they’re increasingly linked to side effects such as kidney stones, gas, constipation, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Melanie Troxell, a Redmond cardio-vascular nurse, said it’s relatively easy to get enough calcium naturally. The key is to balance your calcium intake with your phosphorus intake, which is two to four times too high for most Americans.

“Processed foods, things in crinkly bags, meat, cola drinks: We’re getting more phosphorus than we need ... But it’s not that complicated, I promise. A bone-healthy diet is a heart-healthy diet and a brain-healthy diet.”

Meat and dairy, which are high in phosphorus, should be limited. Instead. recipes should emphasize green leafy vegetables, beans and stews, fruits, seeds and nuts. Troxell suggested each shopping trip include an unfamiliar food, such as almond milk, to determine what you want to add or replace in your diet.

“Can I have a doughnut? Sure, but first eat well ahead of time to be sure we’re filled up with good things,” Troxell said. “Your hips are in your hands. There’s so much you can do.”

Amber Todd, a physical therapist with FMC, took attendees through a series of activities that help in different ways. She recommends 30 minutes of low-impact exercise every day, such as strength-training two to three times a week, and balance training weekly.

People with osteoporosis should check with their doctor, but some good exercises can include brisk walking, dancing, step aerobics and tennis. Weight-bearing exercises such as heel-toe raises and wall push-ups; and resistance exercises including seated kicks with ankle weights and bicep curls are important.

“Start with one or two pounds first, to see what you’re comfortable with,” Todd said.

And always bend from the knees to pick up things — even when making the bed.

“You never want to be leaned over; you always want to have a little bend in your knees ... if you’re washing the dishes or brushing your teeth, open the cabinet under the sink and put your foot up on the inside edge, to take the pressure off your spine,” Todd said.

Shannon Loy, a physical therapist at Advance Rehabilitation, finished up with an emphasis on balance — which fades with vision — in preventing falls. No one plans to fall, he noted, but older people too often don’t ask for help when they should.

“People say they don’t want to be a burden, but “a burden” occurs when you fall and break something ... Your kid would probably much rather help you change a lightbulb than come stay with you in the hospital.”

Among the ways to remain independent is to check your home for hazards and remove them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers checklists with ideas such as keeping objects off the stairs and floor, get rid of throw rugs, install a hand rail in the tub, turn on night lights before you go to bed and put things you use often on the middle shelves.

“Take care of your body like it’s your job,” Loy said.

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