Osteoporosis, a disease causing the loss of bone mass, affects as many as 10 million Americans. This disease weakens the bones in your body, making it more likely for you to experience sudden fractures or bone breaks. But even though osteoporosis affects so many people, the disease usually doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms. In many cases, osteoporosis isn’t discovered until a fall or other accident causes a painful fracture or break. Out of all people living with osteoporosis, almost 80% are women. Women over 50 are especially likely to be diagnosed with osteoporosis—according to statistics, women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis compared to men. But why are women more at risk, and is there anything you can do to help lower you chances of developing this bone disease? Fortunately, science is shedding light on the factors linking women over 50 and osteoporosis. And as we understand more about this disease, we’re recognizing ways to help prevent osteoporosis from starting. If you have questions about your personal osteoporosis risk and how you can reduce your odds of developing the disease, your doctor can help you develop a plan that best fits your lifestyle. Why are women at higher risk? For most people, bone density and strength are at their peak around age 30. From that time on, your bone mass naturally begins to decline. Compared to men, women already have lighter, thinner bones, which makes any loss of bone mass more noticeable. But women’s increased osteoporosis risk isn’t just determined by smaller bones. Once a woman enters menopause, usually around age 50, her body produces lower levels of the female hormone estrogen. Estrogen helps keep your bones healthy by stimulating new bone growth. When women enter menopause and their estrogen levels drop, rapid bone loss can occur. The result is bones that aren’t as strong as a younger woman’s. Additionally, women typically live longer than men. This longevity means more time for bones to lose density, making it more likely for older women to experience breaks or fractures. How can you reduce your osteoporosis risk? Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis: Stop smoking. Research shows that smoking speeds up bone loss. Don’t drink excessively. Consuming large amounts of alcohol may prevent new bone from forming and can make you more likely to experience an accident like a fall. It’s best to limit your alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks every day. Exercise. Exercising on a regular basis not only keeps your muscles healthy, it also helps keep your bones strong. Weight-bearing exercises, like walking, jogging, dancing, and playing sports like tennis, are all good options for helping keep your bones strong. You may also want to add in strength and balance exercises to help reduce your risk of falls. Get enough calcium. Your body uses calcium to make new bone and keep existing bones strong. Calcium is found in a variety of fresh foods and beverages, including milk, cheese, dark green leafy vegetables, many types of seafood, and other calcium-enriched products like orange juice. For women over age 50, doctors recommend getting between 1,200 and 1,500 milligrams (mg) of calcium every single day. Take supplements. Your doctor may recommend you take certain supplements, like calcium and vitamin D, to help your bones stay strong and healthy. Ask your doctor before starting any supplements. Take estrogen. Certain women benefit from prescribed estrogen therapy. Replacing estrogen that’s lost during menopause helps slow the process of bone loss and improves the way your body uses calcium. Your doctor may recommend estrogen therapy depending on your osteoporosis risk and individual needs. While women over 50 are more likely to develop osteoporosis as a result of natural changes to hormone levels in the body, it’s still possible to take steps to help lower your risk. Making healthy lifestyle choices and taking medications as your doctor prescribes can help maintain your bone density and keep you healthy. Ask your doctor about your personal risk factors, and what preventative options may work best for you.