Yes, You Can Stop Bone Loss — Here’s How
With the osteoporosis epidemic in the U.S. continuing to rise, it’s a good time to shine the light on an often insidious disease that can result in broken bones, loss of height, spinal deformity and even a shortened lifespan. Osteoporosis is defined as a condition in which your bones become weak and brittle. In advanced cases, something minor like coughing or bending over can cause a bone fracture.
Osteoporosis, and the loss of bone mass that leads to it, affects up to 54 million people in the U.S. alone. Current estimates suggest that in people over the age of 50, one in two women and one in four men will develop osteoporosis. But don’t be fooled. While we may associate the disease with an older population, people of all ages can be affected, especially if there is a family history of osteoporosis or a diet lacking in calcium and vitamin D, crucial for the growth of new bone cells.
While childhood and adolescence is the crucial time when a healthy diet and daily exercise will help us build strong bones to last a lifetime, it’s important to know that throughout adulthood we can continue to maintain the strength of our bones, and even build new bone, by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
To increase bone density, the two key factors you need to take into account are eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D along with engaging in regular weight-bearing exercises.
Healthy Dietary Sources to Maintain Strong Bones
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), women aged 50 and under and men aged 70 and younger need 1,000 mg of calcium per day. Women over 50 and men over 70 need 1,200 mg per day.
While calcium supplements are always an excellent option, doctors also recommend getting calcium from fresh foods whenever possible. Good choices include low-fat and non-fat milk, yogurt and cheese; calcium-fortified cereals, juices and breads; and green vegetables like collard greens, spinach and broccoli. If you do opt for a calcium supplement, take it in doses of 500-800 mg at a time for better absorption, preferably with food.
In order for the calcium in your diet to be absorbed by your bones, you also need vitamin D. The NOF recommends 400 to 800 IUs per day for men and women under age 50 and 800 to 1000 IUs per day for everyone 50 and over. For most people, it is difficult to get enough vitamin D from food and sunlight alone. Only a few foods like wild caught fatty fish naturally contain vitamin D. Other food sources like dairy products, juices and some cereals are vitamin D fortified. A daily vitamin D3 supplement is the best way to ensure you are getting the recommended daily value.
The Exercises Your Bones Need
Weight bearing and muscle strengthening exercises can help at any age to maintain bone density. You’ll also improve balance, coordination and flexibility to guard against falls. There are two types of weight bearing exercises that can help maintain bone strength: high impact and low impact. High impact exercise includes tennis, jogging, dancing and some aerobic routines. Low impact exercise includes elliptical training, fast walking, stair-step machines and some aerobic exercises. If you are unsure whether your bones are strong enough for high impact exercise, check with your health care provider first. Aim for 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise almost every day.
Muscle strengthening or resistance exercise includes lifting weights and using exercise bands, plus weight machines and using your own body for resistance as in push up or leg squats. Muscle strengthening exercises are beneficial 2 to 3 days per week.
Don’t forget other nonimpact exercises like tai chi and yoga. They can help with posture, coordination, flexibility and balance. Focus your time and effort on the areas of your body that need it most.
If you have not been exercising regularly or are new to these specific exercises, be sure to check with your health care provider first.
A Final Word
A bone mineral density test or DEXA scan is a quick painless way to measure the amount of calcium and other minerals are in your bones. It will help detect osteoporosis and your risk for bone fractures. If you are a younger woman or man with risk factors for osteoporosis or a woman over the age 65, schedule an appointment today for a DEXA scan. While there is no cure for osteoporosis, it is highly treatable and preventable.