4 Hidden Signs Your Bones Are In Trouble
You might think of osteoporosis as a "senior" problem, something you don't have to worry about for years. While it's true that most hip, spine, and forearm fractures occur in people 65 and older, the groundwork for such traumatic (and often life-threatening) injuries is laid much earlier. In other words, the time to act is now: Once you experience a fracture, it's pretty much too late.
While everyone should be taking steps to keep their bones strong, some people need to be especially vigilant. If your mom or grandma suffered from osteoporosis—or maybe they appeared to shrink a few inches or developed so-called dowager's hump—then consider yourself extra vulnerable. Other warning signs, however, aren't quite so obvious. Watch out for these surprising clues that could signal trouble for your skeleton.
Warning sign #1: Your nails chip easily.
Breaking a nail is more than annoying. If it happens frequently, it could mean that your bones are just as brittle. Preliminary studies suggest that people who have low levels of collagen (a strengthening protein) in their nails don't have enough in their bones, either. Meanwhile, weak nails or vertical nail ridges suggest that your body lacks bone-building calcium.
The fix: Increase the number of calcium-rich foods in your diet, such as milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, kale, broccoli, and sardines. You also may want to talk to your doctor about taking a calcium supplement, along with vitamin D to aid absorption.
Warning sign #2: Your gums are receding.
Your jawbone supports and anchors your teeth, and like any bone, it's susceptible to weakening. As your jaw loses bone, your gums can start to recede or detach from your teeth. Another oral red flag: tooth loss. "Women who have bone loss may start to lose teeth or find that their dentures fit poorly," says Susan Greenspan, MD, director of the Osteoporosis Prevention and Treatment Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. In fact, studies show that women with osteoporosis are three times more likely to lose teeth.
The fix: Tell your dentist if you have risk factors for osteoporosis, such as a family history, smoking, long-term steroid use, or calcium deficiency. And be sure to ask if anything in your X-rays seems fishy: Research from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases found that dental X-rays can help identify weak bones and screen for osteoporosis.
Warning sign #3: You struggle to get a grip.
If you have a hard time turning doorknobs or pushing yourself up from a seated position, your bones might be to blame. Studies show a correlation between the strength of your handgrip and the density of the bones in your forearms, spine, and hip. Women who have these problems "tend to be frailer and lack muscle strength and good balance," says Greenspan.
The fix: It's never too late to build muscle and improve balance. If you've never lifted weights before, it's a good idea to work with a personal trainer at first so that you don't injure yourself. Or try yoga or tai chi, which improve balance by developing body strength, flexibility, range of motion, and reflexes. Studies suggest that people who practice tai chi, a Chinese martial art, may reduce their risk of falls by up to 45%.
Warning sign #4: Your heart races.
Your resting heart rate refers to the number of times your heart beats per minute while your body is not doing anything active. Although the average resting heart rate for most people is anywhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute, research suggests that having a resting pulse greater than 80 beats per minute increases your risk for hip, pelvis, and spine fractures. The reason: Your heart rate is a reflection of your fitness level. Resting heart rates tend to be higher in people who are sedentary, and physical activity—especially the weight-bearing kind, like walking—is key to building a strong frame.
The fix: Start by figuring out your resting heart rate. In the morning while still in bed, place one or two fingers over a pulse point on your wrist or neck. Count the number of beats that occur in 15 seconds. Multiply that number by four to get your resting heart rate.
If your heart rate is hitting that 80 or higher range, it may be time to move more. Even though physical activity temporarily makes your heart beat faster, regular exercise gradually leads to a slower resting heart rate. Any activity that gets your heart rate up is good, including biking and swimming. But because these activities don't stress your bones and contribute to bone strength, it's important to also mix in higher-impact weight-bearing activities like walking, running, tennis, dancing, or aerobic classes like Zumba [source]