More than three million people in the UK have osteoporosis – a condition that weakens bones and makes them fragile and more likely to break.

Most common in men and women over 50, it develops slowly over several years and is often only diagnosed when a minor fall or sudden impact causes a bone fracture. The Swindon Osteoporosis Support Group is a community self-help group for people with osteoporosis – and it offers support and practical ways of coping with the condition.

Jean Batten, Ali Jones and Frances Bellamy are all members of the group – and are keen to recruit member members.

Jean, 72, discovered she had the condition 20 years ago, when she joined a research project at the Nuffield Centre in Oxford.

“I was found to have it quite severely,” she said. “I was told then my spine was like the spine of an 80-year-old.”

She said she had guessed she might have it, as both her parents were affected by the condition.

“My mother had it – her spine became very curved. My father lost a lot of height and became very frail.”

Jean said she was immediately put on to the medication, but she suffered a vertebral fracture in her 60s.

“Things you can do in childhood to reduce your risk. Be sure to have enough calcium and exercise. I was confined to bed with a long-term illness. If you have anorexia you may end up with osteoporosis. You don’t want to be underweight.”

She said the condition had an impact on her day-to-day life.

“You have to be careful. I don’t like going out on dark nights when it’s windy or icy, because I am afraid of falling. I do still play badminton, but I am very careful.

“I do try and take exercise, and medication, and eat a high dairy diet. Weight-bearing exercise is important.”

Ali, 74, from Old Town, found out she had osteoporosis when she was 60.

“I had been taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy), and a group study in the press connected HRT with an increased risk of heart disease and breast cancer. My GP decided I should stop taking it, as I had been taking it for quite a few years, and I was sent off for a scan. To my great surprise, they found I had osteoporosis.

“I felt very depressed. It was just before my 60th birthday.”

Ali explained that bone was created and destroyed all the time, but as you got older, the destruction of cells outpaced the creation of new ones.

“I’ve broken both my wrists,” she said. “One was before I was diagnosed and the second wrist broke a few years ago.

“It doesn’t affect my life, but it is always at the back of your mind, particularly when the weather is bad.”

Frances, 70, from Eldene, was only diagnosed three years ago, following a scan.

“I’d had a few aches and pains and the doctor recommended a scan. I was not very happy,” she said. “I have a back problem anyway, but otherwise I wouldn’t have known.”

She said she takes extra care about falls - such as using a slip mat in the bath and watching for trip hazards.

“Meeting with other people who have the same condition, we can talk about the side effects of medication and offer general support,” she said.

The group was set up by the Well Woman Centre in 2008. Members meet eight times a year and organise a range of talks with expert special guests, on topics such as medication, local medical services, diet and exercise. It gives people with osteoporosis a chance to meet others with the condition and share experiences.

This year’s programme included a talk about falls prevention, as well we more general interest topics such as a presentation on Memories of Old Swindon by Andy Binks of the Swindon Society. Meetings are held at the Central Community Centre in Emlyn Square.

The next meeting, on October 12 is a talk on recycling by Cristian Starmer, followed on November 9 by a presentation on community life in Eastcott by Caroline Davies-Khan. Both start at 1.30pm.

According to the NHS, although losing bone is a normal part of ageing, some people lose bone density faster than normal. Women lose bone rapidly in the first few years after the menopause and are more at risk then men. Other factors that increase the risk include some medical conditions, long term use of certain medications, heavy drinking or smoking and a family history of the condition.

You can lower your risk by exercising regularly, eating healthily, including foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, and stopping smoking.

Once diagnosed, osteoporosis can be managed with medication, but lifestyle factors like exercise and diet are also important.

For more information about the support group, email