Five Steps to Building Strong Bones at Any Age

When you consider the lifestyle choices that help you avoid chronic illness, you probably focus on preventing heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

But while you may not think about preventing bone loss as you age, here’s why you should: Osteoporosis, a potentially debilitating disease that already affects more than 53 million Americans, is largely preventable.  

You have the power to protect your bones, and even make them stronger, at any age.

Bone loss: A hidden problem

Your bones provide a strong framework that supports your body and allows it to move. They protect your heart, lungs, and other internal organs from injury, and also act as a storehouse for the essential minerals you need to survive.   

If you think of your skeleton as a rigid, static structure, think again: Your bones are living organs that contain cells and circulating body fluids. Bone tissue is in a constant state of renewal, and that ongoing process is directly affected by your diet, activity level, and lifestyle habits.  

Your body actively builds bone mass until you’re about 30 years old when it stops adding new bone. If you don’t get the bone-building nutrients you need from your diet, your body pulls the calcium and phosphorus it requires for vital functions from its storehouse — your bones — leaving them weaker and more fragile over time.

That’s what osteoporosis is: progressively weakened bones that are prone to break easily. It’s often called a “silent disease,” because many people don’t know they have it until a bone breaks.

Although osteoporosis is most common in postmenopausal women, it can affect almost anyone. Some of the uncontrollable risk factors that boost your chances of developing the disease are increasing age, family history, and low bone density.

Poor nutrition, inactivity, and other unhealthy habits can also cause you to lose bone mass, but these are habits you can change.

Keeping your bones strong, at any age

Whether you’re 30 or 60, there’s a lot you can do to preserve bone mass or prevent further loss. Here are five of the most important steps you can take:  

Use it or lose it

Bone tissue is responsive to the indirect demands you place upon them when you use your muscles. That means that when you exercise regularly, your bones remodel themselves, or adapt, to become strong enough to meet that demand. But if you lead a sedentary lifestyle and place a low demand on your muscles and bones, your bones weaken.  

The best bone-building exercises make you work against gravity. Such weight-bearing exercises — including weight training, walking, jogging, climbing stairs, and dancing — help build strong muscles, and in turn, strong bones.  

Get plenty of calcium and vitamin D

Eating a well-balanced diet that contains enough calories and plenty of fruits and vegetables, fish, and calcium-rich dairy products is an excellent way to minimize bone loss and maintain good health.

Getting enough calcium is especially important. You may already know that calcium helps you reach peak bone mass when you’re young; what you may not realize is that getting enough calcium later in life is essential to maintaining bone mass, too.

Good sources of calcium include dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, soy products, canned sardines and salmon with bones, and calcium-fortified products like orange juice.

Getting enough vitamin D is the best way to ensure you’re absorbing the calcium in your diet. Although your body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight, you may not always make enough.  

Fatty fish and fish oils are natural sources of vitamin D, and so are egg yolks. You can also find it in a variety of fortified food products, including milk, yogurt, and cereal.

Limit bone-robbing foods and drinks

A bone-healthy diet is also defined by what it doesn’t include. It limits sodium because consuming too much sodium causes your body to lose calcium. Many foods contain sodium, but processed foods and canned foods often have higher amounts.

To maintain bone mass, limit your caffeine intake. That’s because caffeine can inhibit calcium absorption and lead to bone loss. Coffee, tea, energy drinks, and soft drinks are leading sources of caffeine.

While you’re cutting back on caffeine, you may want to avoid colas altogether. In addition to their high caffeine content, researchers believe the phosphates in cola may contribute to weaker bones.

Lastly, drinking alcohol can also cause bone loss. If you drink wine or any other type of alcoholic beverage, limit yourself to no more than two servings a day.    

Kick the smoking habit for good

Smoking interferes with your body’s ability to use vitamin D, which reduces the amount of calcium your bones absorb. In fact, after age 30, smokers lose bone mass up to two times faster than nonsmokers.

Smoking also lowers estrogen levels in women and men alike. Estrogen helps your bones hold onto calcium, which is why postmenopausal women are naturally at an increased risk of osteoporosis. S0 smoking after menopause is like hitting your bones with a double-whammy.   

Have regular bone density screenings

The only way to know about bone health is to get regular bone density screenings. Here at Dr. Wendy Hurst’s practice in Englewood, we perform bone density tests with a low-level X-ray machine that assesses the ratio of minerals in your bones. This comfortable, noninvasive test requires you to lie on a table as a scanner is passed over your hips, spine, and wrists.

If you’re over 65, or if you’re younger than 65 but have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis, you should come in for regular bone density screenings.

Dr. Wendy Hurst, Englewood, New Jersey, welcomes new patients and is committed to empowering women to become proactive in managing their health.

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