The most common questions about osteoporosis answered

The most common questions about osteoporosis answered


Last Thursday, 20 October, was World Osteoporosis Day so we spoke with our Health Promotion Team to discuss the most frequently asked questions they get about osteoporosis. They identified the following top five (5):


Q1. What sort of foods should I eat to get enough calcium and how much?


Dairy foods are the main source of calcium for most Australians, but for those with lactose intolerance or other dietary requirements, alternatives include calcium-rich vegetables, fruits and nuts, tinned sardines/salmon, and calcium-fortified foods.

To view a list of selected foods and their calcium content per serve, click on the image below:

For those who are conscious about their weight, it’s good to know that low-fat dairy products have just as much calcium, if not more, than regular varieties.

Osteoporosis Australia recommends 3-5 serves of calcium-rich food daily. The number of servings you need will depend on your age, gender and the calcium content of the particular food you’re consuming.

You can view a table that shows you how much calcium you need to consume each day, by clicking on the image below:

For example, a 30-year-old man could get his daily 1,000mg of calcium by consuming a glass of milk, a tub of yoghurt and a piece of cheese. Meanwhile, a 60-year-old woman who needs 1,300mg per day could eat some salmon and dried figs to make the difference.

To help with calcium absorption, you should also make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D. Learn more by reading Osteoporosis Australia’s consumer guide for calcium and consumer guide for vitamin D.


Q2. What sort of exercises should I do?


Regular physical activity and exercise plays an important role in maintaining healthy bones. Exercise is one of the most effective lifestyle strategies to help make bones as strong as possible, which reduces the risk of fractures later in life.

Bones become stronger when a certain amount of impact or extra strain is placed on them. Exercises we recommend for bone health include:

  • Weight-bearing aerobic exercise (exercises done while on your feet), such as brisk walking, jogging and stair climbing.
  • Progressive resistance training, which means lifting weights that become more challenging over time.
  • Moderate-to-high impact weight-bearing exercise, such as jumping, skipping, dancing, basketball and tennis.
  • Balance and mobility exercises such as standing on one leg with eyes closed and heel-to-toe walking. While not improving bone or muscle strength, these exercises can help to reduce falls.

Some exercises are better at building bones than others. The ability of an exercise to build bone – known as osteogenic capacity – depends on the specific way that stress is applied to the bone during exercise.

You can view a comparison table to see different exercises’ osteogenic capacity, by clicking on the image below:

We highly recommend you speak with your doctor, a physiotherapist or an exercise physiologist for advice before trying new exercises or before commencing any new exercise programs.

You can learn more in Osteoporosis Australia’s consumer guide for exercise or you can speak with a member of our Health Promotion Team by calling the Arthritis Helpline on 1800 011 041.


Q3. I have both osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. What kinds of exercises should I do?


We recommend gentle exercise if you have both osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, such as yoga, pilates, tai chi and swimming. Always seek advice from your doctor, a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist before trying any new exercise.

To get the most out of exercise, it should be done regularly (at least 3 times per week) and it should progress over time, meaning the difficulty should gradually increase to keep challenging the bones and muscles.

If you experience any pain after exercise beyond the expected muscle soreness, seek medical advice. If exercise needs to be reduced, it is better to reduce the duration of each session rather then the number of sessions per week.

We coordinate a number of warm water exercise classes throughout Sydney for our members. If you would like to learn more about how warm water exercise (hydrotherapy) can help your condition, please call us on 1800 011 041.


Q4. How do I get an MRI to check my bone density?


A lot of callers confuse magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry (known as a DEXA Scan). The latter is the actual test used to check bone density so it’s often called a bone density test.

A DEXA Scan painlessly measures the density (strength) of your bones, usually at the hip and spine. It will give you a T-score, which will be in the range of:

  • Normal: Higher than -1
  • Osteopenia (low bone density): Between -1 and -2.5
  • Osteoporosis: -2.5 or lower

Your doctor will need to assess your risk factors for osteoporosis, which include your age, medical history and lifestyle factors before referring you for a test. We therefore recommend you speak with your doctor to check your suitability for a DEXA Scan, as Medicare rebates are only available if you meet certain criteria.


Q5. Which cheese has more calcium?


Harder cheeses like cheddar and parmesan pack more calcium per 100g than softer cheeses like brie and camembert (refer to the food list in Question 1 above for a comparison).

Although rich in calcium, cheeses can be high in saturated fat, so reduced fat varieties should be chosen where possible.


If you would like further information on the above or have other questions about arthritis or osteoporosis, please call us on 1800 011 041.

Register for our upcoming webinar and learn more about how exercise can strengthen bones and help prevent falls and fractures.