Plenty of women share these challenges, but it's way too early to declare yourself a lost cause. After menopause, women are much more vulnerable to osteoporosis, a thinning of bones that leaves them susceptible to fracture. Estrogen slows bone loss; as levels fall, a woman's bone mass can drop as much as 20 percent in the years around menopause. While there are no guarantees that lifestyle changes will prevent you from getting osteoporosis, you can substantially increase your odds. The truth is that because of genetics, some people who do everything right spend decades fighting an uphill battle against the disease. Others, born with bigger bones and inheriting a slower pace of bone loss, will have far more wiggle room--even if they aren't doing everything right. But few people know for sure which category they're in. Even if you have a bone-mineral-density test, there's much you still won't know about the overall quality of your bones. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by adopting a healthier lifestyle. Making positive changes will boost not only the density of your bones but also your overall health.
Because you have multiple challenges, you should commit yourself now to taking on one goal at a time. A fairly painless way to start is to focus on the 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium and the 400 International Units (IUs) of vitamin D that all women your age need. Cut back on the junk in your diet and increase your intake of vegetables and fruit, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. Besides dairy products, good food sources of calcium include fortified orange juice, sardines, salmon, almonds and soybeans. Check nutrition labels for more-specific information. Your doctor may also recommend a calcium and vitamin D supplement.
Even if you hate exercising, you can increase your activity level by doing everyday things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking rather than driving for short errands. Keep a set of light weights around the house or at the office and start doing simple lifts. As you build up strength and start feeling and looking better, you may be surprised to find yourself motivated to experiment with different exercise regimens.
Ultimately, you should aim for 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercises every day. Jumping, hopping and skipping are great exercises for bones. No, we're not kidding, and we personally do this in the privacy of our own homes so that no one else can see how ridiculous we look. Add in a mix of other activities such as progressive weight training using all the muscle groups, jogging, aerobic dancing, stair-climbing or active sports like tennis, hiking and basketball. Also helpful are low-impact weight-bearing exercises like walking (outside and on treadmills), cross-country ski machines and rowing machines.
Even women well past menopause can significantly improve their bone health. In one study, women in their mid-70s reduced their risk of fracture and increased their bone mass by as much as 15 percent when they started doing the right kinds of exercise, boosted their calcium and vitamin D intake, and improved their diet. If they can do it, so can you.