Variations in bone structure between the sexes can pose challenges even to healthy young women. In fact, says Dr. X, an orthopedic surgeon at X, the most common group for stress fractures is female military recruits.
“[In women], the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is smaller than that of men, increasing the risk of knee injuries, and hips are wider, stressing the joints,” says Dr. X.
As a result, high-impact sports and activities such running, basketball and soccer, while great for overall health, can lead to an increased risk of injury in women.
Age also plays a factor. Everyone’s bones lose density as they age, but the effect is more pronounced with women, and at a younger age. “Males lag women by about a decade in this area,” says Dr. X.
In addition, women over age 50 lose bone density with the loss of estrogen, says Dr. X.
“Body size also plays a role, with smaller, thinner-framed women at a higher risk of bone loss sooner,” he says. And women are subject to postmenopausal osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones lose bike workouts are other lower impact exercises that can help promote better bone health while safeguarding joints.”
To increase your resistance to the effects of bone loss at any age, here are some diet and lifestyle changes you can make:
Alter your diet. “Calcium and vitamin D support good bone health,” says Dr. X. “The best sources of calcium are dairy and leafy green vegetables such as spinach or kale. Soy milk and almond milk also have high calcium content but with less fatty value and a higher protein value than cow milk, and without lactose.”
Dr. X also recommends Greek yogurt as a prime calcium source. “It’s healthier than regular yogurt, and the bacteria is better for the stomach.” Salmon, tuna and dairy are excellent sources of vitamin D, as well as sunlight and supplements, X adds.
Exercise. Physical stress strengthens bones, just like a good cardiovascular workout
strengthens the heart. “The irony is that high-impact exercise is best for bones but the
worst for joints,” especially in older and heavier women, says Dr. X. “However, age appropriate step aerobics classes and other exercises are available at
the Y and many other health clubs, so you can engage at the level that’s right for you.”
He suggests that women who are beginning to exercise for the first time start slowly. “Get on a treadmill or take very brief walks,” he says. “Water aerobics and stationery bike workouts are other lower impact exercises that can help promote better bone health while safeguarding joints.”
Eliminate bad health habits. “Alcohol and smoking increase the risk of osteoporosis,” says Dr. X.
Get tested. “Getting a bone density test after age 50 is very important, especially if you have a family history of osteoporosis,” says Dr. X. “It’s never too late to build bone mass, even if tests show significant loss. It’s just time to make lifestyle changes.”
Avoid unnecessary risks. “A lot of people I see in their 80s and 90s are going out to get a cup of coffee on a January day,” says Dr. X. “That’s an accident waiting to happen. If it’s windy and icy and you don’t have to go out, don’t go out. A lot of accidents are preventable by just staying out of harm’s way.”
Know when to seek help. Physical activity is bound to result in at least occasional after-workout discomfort, especially if you’re not used to putting that level of stress on your body. Most aches and pains will go away in a day or two with ice, rest and anti-inflammatory drugs. However, if your injury is caused by impact, or if the pain doesn’t go away in 72 hours to a week, see a physician, says Dr. X.