Strengthening your bones probably isn’t a big health priority and, although it might not necessarily deserve the number one spot, bone health is important at every age and stage of life. Building strong bones early in life helps prevent bone weakening later. While it is possible to make up lost bone in old age, many adults don’t do what they need to tip the bone-mineral-density scales back in their favor. Loss of bone strength can lead to osteoporosis, a disorder in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. Fortunately, there are many things we can do at every age to keep our bones strong and healthy.
Early in life, we build up our “bone bank,” which can help put us ahead of the game for when we pass our period of peak bone mass and begin losing bone faster than we build it. Sometime around age 30, bone mass stops increasing, and the goal for bone health is to keep as much bone as possible for as long as you can. In the first five years after menopause, a woman can lose up to 20 percent of her bone mass. As people enter their 40s and 50s, more bone can be broken down than replaced.
Get enough calcium and Vitamin D. “Calcium” is more or less synonymous with “bone health,” and with good reason. It’s one of the main building blocks of bone, and we can only get the bone-building mineral from the foods we eat. If we do not have enough calcium in our diets to keep our bodies functioning, calcium is removed from where it is stored in our bones. Over time, this causes our bones to grow weaker.
Calcium is a prerequisite for bone health, but it can’t do it alone. Vitamin D is necessary for the body to use calcium to strengthen bones so it is important to eat foods rich in both calcium and vitamin D. While dairy products may be the richest source of calcium, a growing number of foods, such as orange juice, are calcium-fortified making them also a good option.
Fruits, vegetables and grains provide other minerals crucial to bone health, such as magnesium and phosphorus.
According to research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, only 30 percent of Americans ages two and older get the recommended amount of dairy per day. If you feel that you are not taking in enough Vitamin D or calcium, you can take supplements. For people older than nine years of age, the safest daily upper limit of daily Vitamin D is 4000 IU, but talk to your doctor about the best dose for you. Taking higher than recommended levels of calcium and Vitamin D may cause adverse side effects.
Sodium, alcohol, caffeine, soft drinks and cigarettes interfere with the body’s ability to absorb and use nutrients to make bone. Cut back on caffeine. Avoid smoking as it reduces bone mass. Limit protein-rich or salty foods in your diet because in large amounts, they can deplete calcium. Excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to osteoporosis, even if you have no other risk factors.
Exercise regularly focusing on weight-bearing and strength-training exercises. Regular weight-bearing exercise like walking, dancing or step aerobics can protect your bones. For maximum benefit, turn to full-body weight-bearing exercises that load your spine and hips, such as squats, lunges, deadlifts and shoulder presses.
Strength training should be a regular part of your exercise routine. People who strength train enjoy stronger bones. Any activity is good for your bones, but the best exercises load your bones with forces greater than those that you probably encounter in daily life. Termed “minimal essential strain,” the threshold for stimulating new bone formation is generally believed to be about one-tenth of the force required to fracture the bone. The bone actually responds to that stress by becoming thicker and stronger.
Certain medications, such as cortisone, can increase bone loss. Ask your doctor about the side effects of your medications.
Genetics play a role in bone density. While you can’t change your family history, knowing it can help you work better with what you’ve got.
While it’s best to start bone health habits early, it’s never too late to adopt bone-preserving habits. Whether you’re 17 or 70, eating right, exercising and getting enough calcium and vitamin D can increase bone strength and minimize bone loss.
Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors, lifestyle and what you can do to boost your bone health, now and in the future. Need a Provider? Find one here