Your bones may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to menopause. But there’s an important connection that all women should know about.
When you go through menopause, your estrogen levels drop sharply. Because estrogen helps you maintain bone density, this decrease can lead to bone loss and a higher risk of osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones become weaker and more fragile.
Osteopenia vs. osteoporosis
There are two key terms when it comes to bone health:
- Osteopenia refers to having bone density that is lower than normal. It’s not a condition, but rather an indication that you have a higher risk for breaking a bone.
- Osteoporosis is diagnosed when your bone density is low enough that your bones can easily break. About 80% of those living with osteoporosis in the U.S. are women.
Testing your bone density
Bone density is a way to measure how strong and healthy your bones are. While you can start to lose bone mass during perimenopause (or earlier), your risk of a major decrease in bone density is greatest right before and several years after menopause. From there, the rate of bone loss typically slows.
Your doctor can evaluate your bone density with physical exams, blood and urine tests that look at calcium levels, and bone density tests. The most common bone density test is a DEXA scan, a painless test that uses low levels of X-rays to measure bone mineral density at the hip and spine.
A DEXA scan can definitely diagnose osteoporosis, and it is generally recommended (and covered by health insurance plans) every two years for women over age 50. If your initial scan shows that your bones are healthy, however, your doctor may recommend a different timeline.
Preventive measures are key
The good news is that there are several things you can do to help keep your bones strong, including:
- Ensuring you’re getting 1,200 mg/day of calcium through diet and supplements
- Taking vitamin D supplements as well to support your bone health
- Maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking, and reducing alcohol intake
- Developing and maintaining good posture when sitting and standing
- Incorporating weight-bearing, strength-training, and balance exercises
Exercise and bone health
Research shows that exercising for 45 to 60 minutes three times a week maintains bone strength. Consider a combination of weight-bearing exercises like lunges or jogging, strength-training exercises like weight lifting or resistance bands, and balance exercises like tai chi or yoga. Note: If you’ve already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about the safest exercises for you.
People with osteoporosis or worsening osteopenia have several treatment options. One is taking a bisphosphonate, a type of drug that helps to reduce bone turnover and enhance bone density. Depending on your medical history, your doctor may also consider other medications that contain estrogen or mimic its effects.
If you have further questions
Want to know more about bone health and menopause? Chat with an Ovia Health coach today.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- “What do women need to know.” Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation. https://www.bonehealthandosteoporosis.org/preventing-fractures/general-facts/what-women-need-to-know/.
- “Bone Strength After Menopause.” Breastcancer.org. https://www.breastcancer.org/tips/menopausal/longterm_conc/bone_strength.
- “Bone Health: Exercise Is a Key Component.” North American Menopause Society. https://www.menopause.org/for-women/menopauseflashes/bone-health-and-heart-health/bone-health-exercise-is-a-key-component.