Making healthy food choices and staying physically active is often seen as a way to maintain your weight and prevent the onset of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease. But what about your bones? Bone health is something that typically doesn’t become a concern for most people until later in life, when bone diseases such as osteoporosis are more likely to develop.
May is National Osteoporosis Awareness month, an important time to bring attention to a disease that can be preventable with the proper lifestyle changes. Osteoporosis is a degenerative bone disease in which the bones become porous, making them weaker and more susceptible to breaks and fractures. This happens when you lose too much bone and/or make too little bone.
Unlike other parts of your body, such as your muscles or your skin, the weakening of your bones is not something you can see or feel, which makes it that much more important to know how to keep your bones healthy throughout your life as a preventative measure. When it comes to bone health, there are four key lifestyle changes you can make to keep your bones strong and decrease your risk of osteoporosis.
Drink Your Milk: Calcium has forever been known as the “strong bone” nutrient, and for good reason. The body uses calcium for a number of important functions in the body, most importantly to regulate your heart beat. Therefore, when your calcium levels are depleted your body pulls calcium out of your bones to make it available to perform these vital functions.
The reason why osteoporosis doesn’t usually become apparent until age 50 is because of something called “peak bone mass”. From birth until about age 30 you have the ability to build your calcium stores by incorporating a variety of low fat and fat free dairy foods into your meals. However, by the time you are 30 you lose the ability to build on these stores – in other words, you reach peak bone mass. This is why it is so important to drink milk and eat dairy foods throughout your childhood and young adult years so that you can have the strongest bones possible as you enter your adult life. Though getting adequate calcium is critical during the early stages of life, don’t be fooled into thinking calcium becomes less important of a nutrient after age 30. You still want to make sure you are getting the daily recommendation of calcium to ensure that whatever calcium you have stored in your bones is staying there.
Take in Plenty of Vitamin D: Vitamin D acts as a calcium “helper” in the body, which is why you often see dairy products fortified with vitamin D. The main functions of vitamin D in the body are to allow calcium to be absorbed into the bones and to regulate calcium levels in the blood. It has actually been suggested that the increase in incidence of osteoporosis could be explained by the increasing prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency as opposed to calcium insufficiency.
Unfortunately, vitamin D is a hard nutrient to come by. The main source of vitamin D is obtained from sun exposure, and as the dangers of sun exposure have surfaced more and more people are blocking their skin as much as they can. However, you don’t need to burn or tan your skin in order to get vitamin D. Exposing your bare skin for as little as 15 minutes can provide you with a decent amount of vitamin D. Alternative sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, fortified foods and supplements.
Exercise for Strong Bones: Both weight bearing and muscle strengthening exercises have been shown to increase bone strength. Examples of weight bearing exercises include dancing, running, hiking and jumping rope, which are high-impact. Low impact weight bearing exercises include elliptical machines, light aerobics and stair climbers. Weight lifting, utilizing elastic resistance bands, and push-ups are examples of muscle strengthening exercises that are conducive to bone strengthening. However, if you feel you are at risk for developing osteoporosis or have been diagnosed, it’s best to consult with your doctor or physical therapist to find out which exercises are best for you. Also keep in mind that without adequate calcium, your bones will not get stronger even if you are engaging in these types of exercise.
Eat ALL Bone Building Nutrients: Though calcium and vitamin D are center stage for bone health, did you know that there are other nutrients involved in building strong bones? Vitamin K works to move calcium into the proper areas of your body, such as the bones and teeth. Magnesium and phosphorous (which are also found in milk) work synergistically with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K to promote strong bones. For these bone strengthening nutrients, choose dairy foods, green leafy vegetables and lean sources of protein.
Incorporating these four lifestyle changes into your daily routine can substantially reduce your risk of osteoporosis. Hopefully these suggestions will not only inspire you to put bone health on the top of your wellness list, but to also encourage you to raise awareness for bone health within your own community.