Many of us want to know how to keep bones healthy as we age, and for good reason. Because bone is living tissue, it grows and changes over time. In this article, we share some of the increased risks associated with the loss of bone density. Then, we describe some helpful tips for how to keep bones healthy.
Although roughly 90% of peak bone mass is achieved in girls by age 18 and boys by age 20, the bone tissue in the skeleton keeps growing until about age 30 for both men and women, at which point bones reach their maximum density.
After age 30, bone density gradually declines in both men and women, but women may experience a steeper decline in bone density due to decreases in estrogen levels at menopause.
If you look at healthy bone under a microscope, it looks like a honeycomb built by honeybees. When your body loses bone density, the holes and spaces become much larger, and the bones become less dense. This reduced density leads to increasingly fragile bones that are more susceptible to fractures.
Osteoporosis means “porous bone.” Osteopenia, or low bone mass, is the first indication that you’re heading toward osteoporosis. According to 2010 estimates, over 53 million older adults have low bone mass and osteoporosis combined, and over 10 million of these folks have osteoporosis.
For men and women at an increased risk for bone loss, it’s important to do all you can to build and maintain strong bones. Osteoporosis is often called the “silent disease” since a broken bone may be the first sign that your bone density was low.
Breaking a Bone
If you’re over 50 years old and have broken a bone, ask your healthcare professional about getting a bone density test, also called a DEXA scan. This simple, inexpensive test will give you a good gauge of the status of your bones as you age. Even if your bone mineral density is good, you will want to do as much as you can to maintain good bone health.
In older folks, breaking a bone can be serious. Dealing with a break limits mobility and independence but breaks often lead to hospitalization, which puts people at greater risk for exposure to germs and viruses, which can cause sickness.
It’s important to do all you can to prevent falls that lead to broken bones. Some ways to prevent falls include avoiding excessive alcohol intake and being careful with medications, leading to dizziness. Also, be sure not to store items on the floor in your house as this may present a tripping hazard. And, if you need glasses, wear them whenever you are walking around. Studies also show that building muscle strength is the single most critical thing you can do to avoid falls.
Tips for How to Keep Bones Healthy
There are a few things you can do to keep your bones healthy. All types of exercise provide health benefits, but weight-bearing exercise and strength-training exercise are the types you need to do to strengthen your bones and keep them strong.
In addition to a healthful diet, certain dietary supplements can supply the nutrients you need to keep your bones healthy.
Weight-bearing exercises are essential for bone health.
When your legs and feet support your body weight during activity, this is considered weight-bearing exercise. Hiking, walking, jogging, and using stairs are examples of weight-bearing exercises.
Building muscle strength can help, too.
By challenging your muscles with different types of resistance, you can build muscle strength and keep your bones healthy. You can use your own body weight, hand weights, plate-loaded exercise machines, or resistance bands. Experts recommend exercising your major muscle groups, including chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, abdomen, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Your muscles need rest between workouts, so don’t work the same muscle groups on consecutive days.
Eat foods for bone health.
Getting too little vitamin D and calcium can put your bone health at risk, and statistics show that we don’t consume enough of either. Estimates suggest that more than 50% of us are deficient in calcium and the average intake of vitamin D for both men and women falls well below the recommendation. Adequate calcium throughout life, as part of a well-balanced diet, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Vitamin D is available in a limited number of foods. Milk and other calcium-rich foods and drinks are typically fortified with vitamin D, in addition to some cereals. Fatty fish, egg yolk, and beef liver naturally contain vitamin D. It’s difficult to get all the vitamin D you require from diet alone.
For women in their 20’s through 40’s, healthcare professionals recommend 2-3 servings per day of calcium-rich foods, and beginning in your 50’s, it’s recommended to get 3-4 servings of these foods. Men should get 2-3 servings of calcium-rich foods.
Other nutrients are essential for bone health. These include vitamin K and magnesium. In addition to calcium-rich foods, it’s important to consume a well-rounded diet including at least 6 servings of grains, 3-5 servings of vegetables, 2-4 servings of fruits, and 2-3 servings of meat or beans.
If you are not regularly consuming enough of these foods, do not worry. Healthcare professionals recommend taking certain dietary supplements to keep your bones healthy.
Take supplemental vitamins and minerals for bone health.
Calcium and vitamin D are widely recognized as nutrients that contribute to healthy bones. However, vitamin K and magnesium play a role as well.
Vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin, helps regulate calcium absorption from the intestines and stimulates bones to absorb calcium, developing and maintaining strong bones. Adequate calcium and vitamin D throughout life, as part of a well-balanced diet, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
If you want to supplement with vitamin D, choose vitamin D3 since this is the type that the body makes naturally from sunlight exposure.
If you cannot consume enough calcium from food sources, healthcare professionals recommend taking a supplement of calcium citrate with superior bioavailability. It’s best to take no more than 500 mg calcium from food and supplements at one time since this is the maximum that can be absorbed by your body at a time.
For example, if you drink one cup of milk, which contains 300 mg of calcium, and a yogurt that contains 150 mg of calcium, wait until the next snack to take a calcium supplement. Look for a supplement that contains no more than 500 mg of calcium per serving. Splitting up your doses makes it easier for you to absorb calcium throughout the day. And be sure to take your calcium supplement with food since this also boosts bioavailability.
Vitamin K and Magnesium
Vitamin K is required for bone mineralization, and the daily requirement for men is 120 mcg and women 90 mcg. If you are not consuming enough foods rich in vitamin K, such as spinach, kale, and broccoli, consider taking a supplement.
Choose foods rich in magnesium to improve bone health. These include legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and leafy greens. Healthcare professionals recommend a supplement to help you reach your goal. Typically, that means 320 mg for women and 420 mg for men.
Whether or not you have bone health concerns, you will want to maximize your bone density as you age. Eating a healthful diet and taking certain nutrients when necessary is a good start. Doing weight-bearing and strength-training activity can keep your bones healthy and prevent falls that lead to bone breaks. A bonus benefit: these same habits will help you maintain mobility as you age.