Lately, it may seem hard to keep up on your nutrition and fitness goals; the world is full of unknowns, and simple activities such as going to the gym can seem overwhelming. Yet, just like making regular small deposits in your bank account can make a difference for your financial future, taking steps to invest in your bone health can make a positive impact on your quality of life down the road.
Osteoporosis, or the condition where the body loses bone (or stops making new bone quickly enough) and the associated fractures that go with it, impacts one in three women and one in five men over the age of 50 worldwide. While there are many risk factors for developing osteoporosis, including having certain autoimmune conditions, cancers, and other diseases, and taking certain medications, there are steps you can take to help prevent it.
Know Your Risk Early
Knowledge is power, and taking the time to assess your risk for developing osteoporosis can help you set a course for healthy bones. Regular conversations with your doctor about your bone health are essential. Building bone health is a family affair as peak bone mass (or the strongest your bones can be) is reached by the age of 30, so engaging the entire family in bone-building exercise and healthy eating is important for future bone health. Your health care provider can also help you determine if you may need to have bone density screening to establish a baseline.
Build and Keep Peak Bone Mass
While there are risk factors we can’t control that may contribute to the building of peak bone mass (for example, age, gender, and race), there are lifestyle behaviors that also make a difference: healthy eating, exercise, and not smoking. A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D can help your body build new bone through its constant process of bone breakdown/re-building (resorption). For those who eat a healthy, balanced diet, but still find it challenging to get enough calcium and vitamin D from food, nutritional supplements may help. Adequate calcium and vitamin D as part of a healthful diet, along with physical activity, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in later life.
Gravity is Your Friend
When you exercise and work against gravity, you can help your bones maintain their strength. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, running, dancing, and climbing stairs pull and push on your bones, increasing the calcium that is deposited and making the bone-building cells act. Resistance training or lifting weights also helps with this. The more vigorous the exercise, the more you see the bone health benefit. The area of the body that is being exercised will also be where the bone-building will happen. So, vary your exercise routine, targeting different areas of the body, and always consult your health care provider before beginning a new fitness plan.
Chairs, railings, stairs, cans of soup, water jugs—all these household items (and more) can help you work out at home. Anything that has you moving your arms and legs is a fitness plus! There are many apps and websites that can guide you through at-home exercises in short 10-15-minute bursts or longer periods of time. Be sure always to wear rubber-soled comfortable shoes, be aware of your surroundings, so you are safe when you exercise, drink plenty of water, and rest between sets.
Maintain Your Balance
Having good balance is essential to being active, and decreasing the chance of falling as you age. According to the National Institute on Aging, balance issues are among the most common reasons older adults see their doctor. Inner ear problems, cardiovascular disease symptoms (e.g., high blood pressure), and more can impact balance. If you find that you often feel dizzy or lightheaded, feel like you are moving (even when you aren’t), or feel like you are falling, you may have disordered balance. By taking care of your health and consulting with your doctor, you can maintain and even improve your balance over time.
Always Work Toward an Achievable Goal
Changing the way we live is not easy. When we aim to add a new healthy habit, it is helpful to remember to start small and keep the end goal in mind. Each week set a small (achievable) target. For example, if you are not doing any exercise right now, your goal might be to exercise for 10 minutes at least three days during the week. You can then increase days/minutes as you go. Be kind to yourself and recognize that not everything will go as planned. Along the way, you will learn what works and what doesn’t. Maybe you are someone who can work out early in the morning, or perhaps later in the day is better for you. Keep trying until you find what works. If you don’t enjoy it, it will be harder to motivate yourself to keep up the new healthy exercise habit. With every step you take, you are investing in your healthy bones – and your body will appreciate it!