May is National Osteoporosis Prevention Month; a time to be proactive in food choice and physical activity that makes strong bones. Osteoporosis is a chronic disease that affects 44 million Americans. According the National Osteoporosis Foundation; 10 million Americans currently live with the disease and another 34 million are estimated to have low bone density. Osteoporosis occurs when bones become thin and weaken. Although it is preventable for most people, the risk factors are age, gender, family history, race and bone structure. Older people often experience a loss of bone density; women have less bone tissue and lose bone more rapidly than men. Caucasian and Asian women are more at risk; however, African American and Hispanic women are also at risk. If osteoporosis runs in your family, you are more at risk. Bones are living tissue needing proper nutrition and exercise to stay healthy. Building strong bones can be the best defense against developing osteoporosis. The first step is getting a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Other lifestyle habits include exercise, eliminating smoking and alcohol. Calcium plays an important role in maintaining healthy bones. Be sure to get calcium-rich foods in your diet each day. Low fat dairy foods are an excellent source of calcium, consume three servings each day. Dark leafy greens and broccoli are considered a good source of calcium, so eat them often. In recent years, more food products have been fortified with calcium such as orange juice and some cereals. You need to read the food labels to determine if the product is fortified. Vitamin D works with calcium to maintain healthy bones; it actually helps your body absorb calcium. Think of it as a key that unlocks the door to allow calcium into your bones. Dairy foods are fortified with vitamin D, other foods include egg yolks, saltwater fish and liver. Your body manufactures its own vitamin D when you are in direct sunlight. Usually 10 to 15 minutes exposure of hands and arms several times a week is adequate. Like muscles, bones respond to exercise by becoming stronger. A lack of exercise, particularly as you get older, may contribute to low bone mass. Weight bearing exercise such as walking, jogging, stair climbing and dancing will help strengthen bones. Before you start an exercise program, consult your doctor. On May 5th, a program, Catch the Silent Thief, will be presented at the Madison County Extension office starting at 6 p.m. Learn the facts and what you can do to be proactive through food choice and exercise to prevent the disease. For those who already have osteoporosis, learn what you can do to optimize your health. Register by calling the Extension office at 973-4138. The University of Florida Extension – Madison County is an Equal Employment Opportunity Institution.