Most of us take our bones for granted. Couch potatoes and world class athletes tend to forget about them until they experience pain as a result of physical stress, physical injury or a symptom of disease (ie. osteoporosis, cancer, etc.). What the majority of us don’t realize is our bones are as vital to our health as our heart, lungs and brain. Optimal bone health and osteoporosis prevention begins the day we are born. Neglecting our bones early in life can result in premature (and significant) bone loss resulting in osteoporosis, a higher risk of bone fractures and increased risk of death.
The 206 bones that make up the adult human body do more than just give it structure and the ability to move. They also protect organs, anchor muscles, store crucial nutrients (ie. vitamins, minerals and lipids) and produce blood cells that nourish the body and protect it against infection.
Bone consists of crystals made up of two minerals (calcium and phosphate) bound to protein. This makes it both strong and resilient so it can absorb impact without breaking. If it was made of only mineral it would be very brittle and break easily. If it was made of only protein it would be too soft and bend very easily. To provide the body with a frame that is both light and strong, bones are hollow.
Bone is constantly changing size, shape and position to better carry out each of its different functions. Existing bone is broken down as new bone is put in its place. During childhood, more bone is produced than removed, so the skeleton grows in both size and strength. For most people, bone mass peaks by the age of 30. By this age, men typically have more bone mass than women. Between the ages of 30 and 50 years men and women experience minimal total bone loss. Following menopause, women in particular experience rapid bone loss in the first few years.
By age 65 or 70, however, men and women are losing bone mass at the same rate, and the body has difficulty absorbing calcium at the same rate as when they were younger. Excessive bone loss during these years can lead to osteoporosis, a bone disease affecting approximately 44 million women and men in the U.S. (1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture in their lifetime).
Fractures that happen as a result of osteoporosis most commonly occur in the hip, spine and wrist. These fractures can permanently disable an individual in addition to the fact that both vertebral and hip fractures are associated with an increased risk of death. Hip fractures are especially dangerous, particularly for men. This may be due to the fact they sustain hip fractures at older ages than women and are more likely to die from complications.
Bone Health Basics
It’s never too early or too late to start taking care of your bones. The following are simple guidelines to promote healthy bones for a good quality of life.
Eat a well-balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
Calcium is a mineral needed by the body for healthy bones, teeth, and proper function of the heart, muscles and nerves. Good sources of calcium include:
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products (ie. milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese)
- Certain types of fish (ie. sardines and salmon)
- Dark leafy greens (ie. spinach, kale, collard greens)
- Fortified cereals and baked products
- Drinks with added calcium (ie. orange juice and soy milk)
Recommended calcium intakes for youth 9 to 18 years is 1,300 mg/day, adults 19 to 50 years is 1,000 mg/day, and older adults 51 and up is 1,200 mg/day.
Vitamin D also plays an important role in healthy bone development. It helps the body absorb calcium (the reason why milk is fortified with vitamin D). Good sources of vitamin D are only found in a few foods (and in small quantities) including:
- Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (ie. tuna, mackerel and salmon)
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
- Foods fortified with vitamin D (ie. some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk and cereals)
Recommended vitamin D intakes for individuals after the first year of life is 600 IU/day.
Get plenty of physical activity.
Exercise is known to increase bone density and improve bone health. Researchers from the Bone and Joint Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation Center at the University of Michigan identified three characteristics of exercise that have the greatest impact on increasing bone density. They include:
- Strain magnitude of the exercise (ie. gymnastics and weightlifting apply large amounts of force or impact on bone)
- Strain rate of the exercise (ie. jumping or plyometrics where a high rate of repeated impact on bone is applied)
- Strain frequency of the exercise (ie. running and skipping where the impact to the bones occurs frequently during the exercise session)
Researchers also found that increases in bone density can result from as little as 12 to 20 minutes of weight-bearing exercise, three days a week.
bioDensity™ is an innovative technology designed to increase bone density by offering a safe, effective and efficient alternative to traditional weight-bearing exercise. When using the bioDensity the body is exposed to self-loaded impact forces in four different directions. The participant completes a total of four exercises (Chest Press, Leg Press, Core Pull and Vertical Lift), a single maximal effort for each, 5 seconds in duration, for a total of 20 seconds of work. A bioDensity session is completed once per week.
Live a healthy lifestyle.
Aside from eating right and exercising on a regular basis it’s important to take care of your overall health. The following suggestions include:
- Don’t smoke.
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
- Talk to your doctor about your bone health (ie. risk factors and bone density/DEXA scan).
- Take the medication prescribed to you to prevent bone loss and reduce the risk of bone fracture (if applicable).
Falling down can cause a bone to break, especially for someone with osteoporosis. Most falls can be prevented with the right precautions and care. For example:
- Check your home for dangers like poor lighting, uneven surfaces or loose rugs.
- Have your vision checked at least once a year.
- Improve balance and strength by walking every day and taking functional movement classes like Tai Chi, yoga or dancing.
Osteoporosis and Bone Health Resources
- National Osteoporosis Foundation
- International Osteoporosis Foundation
- NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center (National Institutes of Health)