Around the world, osteoporosis affects one in three women (over the age of 50). As a traditional Javanese dancer, I realize how important it is to have strong bones. It is also important to do physical exercise regularly. Eat food rich in calcium and other bone nutrients early on to build strong bones.
Because the loss of muscle means the loss of strength and mobility, managing sarcopenia needs to be taken seriously. Sarcopenia accelerates around age 75 and is a factor in the occurrence of frailty and the likelihood of falls and fractures.
While there are still no approved treatments for sarcopenia, there are lifestyle changes you can make to help you live with this disease. These include resistance training and a nutritious diet.
Appropriate steps should also be taken to avoid falls.
The following is a story of someone living with sarcopenia.
"I was never one for joining the sports teams at school. Because I had an office-based job most of my working life, I’ve never been what you’d describe as an ‘active’ person. But, as I never smoked or drank much alcohol, I thought I was pretty healthy.
Then my husband sadly died quite young and so I found myself living alone at 60. I had always cooked well for the both of us, but with him gone I started cutting corners; eating too much toast and jam, rather than proper meals. He had always done the driving, so I didn’t get out as much. Added to which when I did go out, I didn’t feel so confident. I’d lost my balance a few times outside, on rough pavements and when it was getting dark, and I’d ended up in a heap on the ground, very embarrassed. These falls always shook me up and so I tended to try to stay in the house.
It was a stormy day in January, when a strong gust blew me over on the ice. I put my hand out to save myself and then I heard the crack as my wrist broke. It was the osteoporosis specialist nurse who suggested I ask my GP about the falls clinic. There I saw a doctor who assessed me; she arranged a bone density scan and timed my walking and ‘get-up-and-go’. From blood tests she discovered my vitamin D levels were very low, as I wasn’t getting enough sunlight. Low vitamin D was making my bones thin (osteoporosis) and my muscles weak (sarcopenia). She prescribed me tablets to replace and then maintain my vitamin D levels. She also suggested I see a dietician, as I wasn’t eating a balanced diet and had grown quite thin, as well as one of their specialist physiotherapists.
The dietician explained to me why I needed to increase my protein intake to make my muscles stronger; I now eat chicken, fish and more pulses. She also explained the need for fresh fruit and vegetables, as these are non-acid producing, as well as the calcium-rich foods for my bones.
The physiotherapist, Mark, ran a 10-week program of falls and balance classes. Here I met other ladies who had experienced falls, and together we learnt specific muscle-strengthening and balance-improving exercises. At the end Mark gave us written instructions about on-going exercises for us to do at home. It really made us feel more confident. Now I go for a walk most days, do my exercises, and have even smartened up the garden.
I understand that I have sarcopenia, and that my muscle mass and strength will continue to decline as I age, but I also know that if I keep up with my exercise plan and eat the right diet for my bones and muscles, I’m much less likely to fall and injury myself again."
Our Bone Health Advocates
I think if you are at high risk of osteoporosis, and even if you are not, you have to look at your health. Keep everything very simple. But you need to eat well, considering things like calcium, vitamin D and so on, and also you need to stay active and just keep the bones and the body moving. Life’s too good to be missing out on it. Healthy bones are the foundation to a healthy body.
Although we have effective treatments for osteoporosis, each year millions of our grandmothers are crippled and disfigured because they don't have easy and sufficient access to diagnosis and medication. Osteoporosis has become a large global, social and medical movement. The women who have cared for us now need us to care enough to urge policy-makers to give them access to proven therapies before they break a bone. Today, I join with women across the world to call for an end to this unnecessary suffering.