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Try five steps to better bone health

With proper education, nutrition and certain safeguards, you can improve the health of your bones.

"Step on a crack, break your mother's back."

This silly childhood rhyme serves as an important reminder that 34 million Americans have low bone mass, putting them at risk for a more serious health condition-osteoporosis, and for fractures that most commonly occur at the spine, wrist, and hip.

Osteoporosis is most common in postmenopausal women and occurs when your body loses bone faster than it is replaced, weakening bones and making them more susceptible to breakage.

To improve bone health, experts recommend the following five steps.

• Understand the risk factors for osteoporosis. After menopause, women are at greater risk for developing osteoporosis. The condition also tends to run in families.

• Participate in a regular exercise program. It not only keeps your heart healthy, but it also helps you maintain a healthy weight.

The program should include some form of weight-bearing exercise such as weight lifting, jogging or walking, helping to build bone mass and reducing the risk of falls.

• Eat calcium-rich food — dairy products, broccoli, and fish are rich in calcium and are a great choice. You also can find calcium-fortified breads and juices.

• Take a calcium supplement. For women 51 and older, the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends 1,200 mg a day of calcium.

• Stop smoking. Smoking increases your chance of developing osteoporosis.

Follow these tips to improve your bone health. A variety of prescription drugs are available today that can help protect your bones. For example, one prescription medication treats and prevents postmeno-pausal osteoporosis and has been shown to build bone mass as soon as three months.

It also can help prevent fractures in as little as one year.

See your doctor for any bone-health concerns, including information about prescription medications and other osteoporosis treatments, and to discuss which exercise program is right for you.

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