It might seem surprising, but bones and lung health are connected. Osteoporosis—a condition of porous, weak bones that break easily—can be caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. That’s why everyone with COPD can benefit from learning about bone health.
Osteoporosis is a disease that develops silently. Unless you’ve had a bone mineral density test, you can’t tell that your bones have gotten weaker. But fractures of the wrist, spine, or hip are anything but silent. They are painful and disabling. In addition, fractures of the spine can result in deformities and loss of height.
Poor bone health and COPD are linked in several ways. Smoking increases the risk for both conditions.
Having a chronic lung condition makes it harder to be active, so people with COPD may spend more time sitting. Because exercise builds muscle mass and improves coordination, a sedentary lifestyle can rob those with osteoporosis of the opportunity to get stronger.
Recent research has tied vitamin D deficiency to COPD. This may be due to spending more time indoors and not getting much sunlight or smoking. Vitamin D works together with calcium to maintain healthy bones.
Some medicines can affect bones. Inhaled and oral corticosteroid drugs can be helpful for managing severe COPD, but long-term use of steroids has been linked with an increased risk for osteoporosis.
To prevent fractures, take steps to keep your bones strong and healthy now and as you get older. Start with these recommendations:
Talk with your healthcare provider to see if you need a bone mineral density test. If your bone density is low, there are several medicines that can improve bone health and decrease the risk of disabling fractures.
Be as active as possible. Weight-bearing exercise, like brisk walking and climbing stairs, strengthens bones. Using free weights or weight machines is also helpful. Stretching, yoga, and tai chi improve your balance and reduce the risk of falling. Some exercises aren’t safe if you already have osteoporosis. Work with your provider to develop an exercise plan right for you. If you are struggling to exercise on your own, ask about pulmonary rehabilitation.
Get enough vitamin D and calcium. Your body needs these nutrients every day to prevent bone loss. It may be a challenge to get adequate calcium and vitamin D from diet alone. Ask your provider or dietitian whether you need a supplement.
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. They contain minerals and vitamins that are crucial for keeping bones strong.
Limit alcohol and sodium. Drinking too much alcohol harms your bones and increases the risk for falls. Consuming too much sodium causes your body to get rid of calcium in the urine.
If you smoke, try to quit. Quitting isn’t easy, but it’s one of the best things you can do for your overall health.
Your bones support you all day long, so support them with these bone-friendly steps.