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Improving bone health

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There are some factors in bone health that you cannot control, like your build, your family history and medicines you have taken for breast cancer or other conditions. But there are things you can do on your own to improve your bone health. Some of these habits can benefit you even if you have healthy bone mineral density and lessen other treatment side effects. Even if you have come out of treatment with healthy bones, taking care of them will be important for the rest of your life.

Exercise

When you are getting treatment and feeling ill or tired, exercise may seem like too much to ask of yourself. But regular exercise is good for bone health, helps your overall physical well-being and has emotional benefits, too. You will likely find that getting some exercise gives you more energy over time. If you’ve never exercised regularly before, you already have weak bones, or you have any health concerns, consider starting with the help of a physical trainer, physical therapist or other expert.

Your bones are made stronger through use, much like muscles. Moving and taking weight on certain areas will signal your body to make that part stronger. In addition to the direct benefits to your bones, exercise can also build your strength and balance to help prevent falls, which can cause fractures in people with low bone density. Weight-bearing exercises are the most effective at improving bone health. These are exercises in which you work against gravity. A good example is lifting weights, but also includes these other common exercises:

  • Walking
  • Yoga
  • Dancing
  • Stair-climbing
  • Elliptical machines
  • Gardening and yard work

Some exercises that are NOT considered weight-bearing are bicycling and swimming, both of which have significant benefits for heart health but have fewer benefits for your bones. You may use exercises that are not weight-bearing to build up your fitness if you are not able to start on weight-bearing exercises at first.

It is important to be safe when you exercise. Some soreness is common when you first start working out, but you should stop if you experience pain that lasts more than 48 hours after your workout. A physical therapist can help by showing you exercises suited to your abilities and your goals. He or she may also instruct you on exercises you can safely do at home.

Nutrition

Eating well will help you maintain a healthy weight and a good quality of life. If you are at risk for bone loss or have low bone density you should make sure you are getting your daily requirement of two nutrients that play a special role in bone health: calcium and vitamin D.

Calcium is important for rebuilding bone; people who do not get enough of it are more likely to get bone fractures and have low bone density. You can work more calcium into your diet by including more dairy — milk, cheeses and yogurts — leafy, dark-green vegetables and fish. You may also find cereals, tofu, soy milk and other foods that now come “fortified” with added calcium.

Maybe just as important to protecting your bones is vitamin D, which your body needs to be able to absorb calcium. Vitamin D can be found only in certain foods, like saltwater fish, egg yolks and liver, but it can also be absorbed through sunlight. As with calcium, there are now foods available, specifically cereals and milk, that come with added vitamin D. Your doctor can test the level of vitamin D in your blood and talk to you about how much sunlight is safe or other ways you can get more vitamin D, including through supplements.

 

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Reviewed and updated: May 15, 2017

Reviewed by: Adam Brufsky MD, PhD , Kanu Sharan MD

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Living Beyond Breast Cancer is a national nonprofit organization that seeks to create a world that understands there is more than one way to have breast cancer. To fulfill its mission of providing trusted information and a community of support to those impacted by the disease, Living Beyond Breast Cancer offers on-demand emotional, practical, and evidence-based content. For over 30 years, the organization has remained committed to creating a culture of acceptance — where sharing the diversity of the lived experience of breast cancer fosters self-advocacy and hope. For more information, learn more about our programs and services.

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