Breaking a bone is hard to forget.
Nate Spicer, a retired teacher and former principal, recalls when he was a high school junior.
“I broke my wrist playing football. I tackled somebody and came up with a broken wrist,” Spicer said, who is now 68 and lives in Schererville.
When it comes to broken bones, men such as Spicer approaching their 70s face an unforgiving player: osteoporosis.
One in four men will break a bone in their lifetime due to osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to lose density and become prone to fracture, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
Men are more likely to break a bone because of osteoporosis than be diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“People are living longer, and with that, what happens? More fractures because their bones just aren’t able to keep up,” said Dr. Victor Romano, an orthopedic surgeon practicing in Oak Park, Illinois. “It’s getting to be more and more epidemic now.”
A specialist in sports medicine, Romano cites a healthy active lifestyle as key to warding off osteoporosis.
“You've got to keep them moving. I tell people, ‘You don’t get to 90 years old by sitting in a rocker,’” Romano said.
Romano said weight-bearing exercise is important to keep bones from becoming brittle.
“When you’re doing lifts and squats, they don’t have to be super heavy weights. You can do pushups and pullups. That puts stress on your bones with your body weight,” Romano said. “Do what you enjoy.”
Romano also uses balance training and assessment to help prevent life-threatening falls among his patients with osteoporosis. Individuals older than 60 who fracture their hip have a 20% mortality rate in the year after the fall, Romano said.
Men have a higher mortality rate after a hip fracture than women, according to the National Institutes of Health.
L.J. Mattraw, wellness manager at Franciscan Health Fitness Centers Schererville, is on board with balance and strength training to combat osteoporosis.
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Mattraw and his team recommend full-body strength training involving 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise two to three days per week.
Movements to promote full-body strength include a squat, hip-hinge or deadlift movement, a horizontal push, a horizontal pull, an overhead push and an overhead pull, Mattraw said.
Cardio activities are important for men with osteoporosis, but Mattraw added that high-impact exercises such as walking and running can build bone mass better than swimming or an elliptical.
Declining testosterone levels in aging men contribute to the risk of breaking a bone.
Though a considerable number of men suffer from osteoporosis, Mattraw said they do not often bring up the disease.
“We definitely hear a lot more from women who are struggling with (osteoporosis),” Mattraw said.
While osteoporosis is more common in women during menopause, Romano said men catch up in their 70s and 80s He said the decline in bone health for both sexes begins much sooner.
“At (age 21 for men and 26 for women), your bone is as strong as it’s going to get. You have the best bone density you’re going to have. After that, you start losing it. It’s downhill,” Romano said.
Besides participating in weight-bearing exercises, calcium intake is important as men age.
“Your body needs calcium. Your brain, nerves, your heart: it needs calcium to function. So if you don’t get the calcium from your diet, (your body) is going to take it from your bones," Romano said.
Romano recommends 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day, from a healthy diet rather than a supplement. He cautions against taking 500 milligrams or more at once, pointing to research suggesting an increase in heart attacks and strokes with concentrated doses of calcium.
Romano also listed vitamin D, magnesium, and vitamin K as crucial to bone health. Lifestyle risk factors such as smoking and drinking two or more alcoholic drinks a day can also take a dramatic toll on a man’s bone health.
Spicer, the Schererville retiree, is doing his part to combat osteoporosis with a regular supplement of vitamin D and taking walks in the sun with his wife, exploring local parks.
“I like being outside. I like the nature and the fresh air. If I am with my wife, it’s a good time to have conversation,” Spicer said.