Bones are quite literally the support system of the body – they hold us up, help us move around, they keep our organs safe and they store important minerals, so it’s super important to keep them strong and healthy.
Bones change and grow throughout life – they are continuously being broken down and rebuilt in tiny amounts. Before about age 30, when bones typically reach peak bone mass (which varies from person to person), the body is creating new bone faster, but after age 30, the bone building balance naturally shifts and more bone is lost than gained.
Some people have a lot of savings in their “bone bank” because of factors including genetics, diet and how much bone they built up as teenagers. The natural depletion of bone doesn’t affect these lucky ducks too drastically. But in those with a smaller bone fortune, when the body can’t create new bone as fast as the old bone is lost, osteoporosis can set in, causing bones to become weak and brittle and allowing them to fracture more easily.
The best time to shore up the bones is in childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. Whatever age you are, start looking after your bones now.
- Know your family history. As with many medical conditions, family history is a key indicator of bone health. Those with a parent or sibling who has or had osteoporosis are more likely to develop it.
- Boost calcium consumption. This mineral is essential for the proper development of teeth and bones. (Not to mention it’s a huge helper in proper muscle function, nerve signalling, hormone secretion, and blood pressure.) You can help your body absorb calcium by pairing calcium-rich foods with those high in vitamin D. Foods that are good sources of calcium include yogurt, cheese, milk, spinach and collard greens.
- Don’t forget the vitamin D. Where there’s calcium, there must be vitamin D: the two work together to help the body absorb bone-boosting calcium. Boost vitamin D consumption by munching on shrimp, fortified foods like cereal and orange juice, sardines, eggs (in the yolks) and tuna. The body also produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun so make sure you get outside.
- Balanced, nutritious diet.
- Make exercise a priority. Regular exercise is key to keep a number of health issues at bay, and bone health is no exception. In fact, living a sedentary lifestyle is considered a risk factor for osteoporosis.
What type of exercise is most effective? Weight-bearing exercises like running, walking, jumping rope, skiing and stair climbing keep bones strongest. Resistance training has also been shown to improve bone health in several studies, so pick up the weights after going for a jog. Improved strength and balance helps prevent falls (and the associated fractures) in those who already have osteoporosis. Aim for 30 minutes a day.
- Consume less caffeine. Caffeine does have some health benefits, but unfortunately not for our bones. Too much of it can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium. One study showed that drinking more than two cups of coffee per day accelerated bone loss in subjects who also didn’t consume enough calcium. Another study (albeit on elderly women) showed that more than 18 ounces of coffee per day can accelerate bone loss by negatively interacting with vitamin D. So enjoy the java, but keep it in moderation and consume enough calcium too.
- Cool it on the booze. But like caffeine, there’s no need to quit entirely. While heavy alcohol consumption can cause bone loss (because it interferes with vitamin D doing its job), moderate consumption, (that’s one drink per day for women, two per day for men) is fine. In fact, recent studies actually show it may help slow bone loss.
- Quit smoking. Here’s yet another reason to lose the cigarettes: multiple studies have shown that smoking can prevent the body from efficiently absorbing calcium, decreasing bone mass.
- Sleep well. A recent study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research suggests that the sleep disruption caused by sleep apnea can negatively affect bone metabolism.
- Minimize falling hazards. Falling puts you at risk for breaking a bone, especially if you have osteoporosis. So do what you can to prevent falls. Start by making your home “fall-free” by removing loose rugs, moving furniture that impedes walking, and installing good lighting. Then consider incorporating balance-building activities like yoga, t’ai chi, and dancing into your routine. Get your eyesight and hearing checked. Take a look at the NHS Risk Assessment Tool
- Work out if you’re at risk of developing osteoporosis and breaking a bone in the next 10 years. The online Fracture Risk Assessment Tool (FRAX) uses a range of risk factors to predict a person’s risk of fracture because of weak bones.The self-assessment tool gives a 10-year probability of a fracture in the spine, hip, shoulder or wrist for people aged between 40 and 90. Estimating your fracture risk could be the first step to getting early treatment to strengthen your bones and reduce your fracture risk. Here’s the link: www.sheffield.ac.uk/FRAX/tool.aspx?country=1