One of the major health risks associated with getting older, particularly for peri-menopausal, or menopausal women is osteoporosis. As our oestrogen levels reduce, our bones can become weaker and more brittle, placing us at a higher risk of fractures and broken bones. It’s not an appealing prospect.
Whilst a lot can be done to help prevent this condition by HRT and a sound nutritional approach, it is still good to know how healthy our bones are.
Having just had my 55th birthday and being fully in the ‘menopause zone’, the strength of my bones is definitely on my mind.
Exercise is, of course, recommended, particularly weight-bearing exercise and, my women’s health physio tells me that jogging can also help – although it’s a toss-up between joints and pelvic floor in that department.
Either way, I am a firm believer in ‘forewarned is forearmed’ and, as things stand with the NHS and the woeful lack of knowledge about menopause which seems to abound up and down the country, we have to take our health into our own hands, educate ourselves and campaign strongly (and loudly) for better care for older women.
I recently discovered that there is a particular type of body scan that will tell you precisely how healthy your bones are. It is called a DEXA scan.
A DEXA scan uses low dose X-rays to measure the density (i.e. the strength) of your bones. It is quick, painless and more effective than a normal X-ray in identifying low bone density.
Whilst osteoporosis can strike at any age, you may need to have a DEXA scan if you are over 50 with a risk of developing the condition (i.e. menopausal or post-menopausal) or under 50 with other risk factors such as smoking or a previous fracture or break.
DEXA scans will do more than this, however. They can measure your body fat allowing a more personalised weight loss programme.
Even more importantly, they can measure your visceral fat – the ‘bad’ fat wrapped around your organs which increases the risk of heart disease and other serious diseases.
DEXA scans can also be used to measure muscle mass. If you’re inactive or naturally skinny, your muscle mass is probably low – and will decrease over time making you weaker. Knowing your muscle mass allows you to adapt your diet and exercise routine accordingly.
If you are in the UK, you may have to pay privately for a DEXA scan if your GP will not refer you for one. Contact your local private healthcare provider for more information.
If you are in the US, visit www.dexascan.com for more information and scanning facilities near you.