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About 10 million Americans have osteoporosis.
About 10 million Americans have osteoporosis. / Stockbyte/Getty Images

Risk factors you can't control

• Women are more likely than men to develop the disease.
• Increasing age and family history ups your chances.
• Your body size may increase your chances: Small-framed people are at a greater risk.
• New research suggests women who go through menopause early are nearly twice as likely to suffer from osteoporosis in later life.

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The effects of weak bones are tough to miss: As osteoporosis sets in, bones can become so brittle that a minor bump or strain can cause a fracture, back pain or loss of height. About 34 million Americans are at risk for osteoporosis, the National Osteoporosis Foundation says. These four steps can help protect your bones:

Get calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is the building block of bones, and vitamin D helps your body absorb it. Calcium-rich foods include low-fat dairy and foods fortified with calcium. For vitamin D, try fatty fish such as salmon and tuna.

Walk fast and lift weights. Bones get stronger and denser the more you make them work. Combine weight-bearing and strength-training exercises to help build and maintain bone density. Along with walking, other good weight-bearing workouts include jogging, tennis and dancing ó aim for 30 minutes on most days. Strength training should be done two to three days a week, and could include workouts with exercise bands or weight machines . Before starting any exercise program, check with your doctor.

Stop smoking and drink less alcohol. The chemicals in cigarettes are bad for bone cells. Also, more than one alcoholic beverage a day may decrease bone formation.

Test your bone strength. The most common way is with a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), a quick procedure that painlessly measures the density of bones in your spine, hip and wrist.

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