Build Strong Bones
It’s important to build strong bones. Characterized by weak and brittle bones, osteoporosis and its precursor osteopenia affect 44 million Americans and cause more than 2 million bone fractures every year. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to keep your bones strong and lower your risk of osteoporosis, and it’s never too early to start.
Click through the slideshow to learn simple ways to keep your bones strong.
Think of your bones as a retirement savings account; you need to bank a lot of funds when you’re young so you have plenty to draw on as you get older. Bones reach peak density when you’re in your 20s. From then on, your job is to keep those levels up by getting enough calcium and vitamin D, exercising, and taking other steps.
Know Your T-Score
Osteoporosis is often called a “silent disease” because it doesn’t show obvious outward symptoms until a bone breaks—not the sign you want to wait for. A bone mineral density (BMD) test can tell you how strong your bones are. Your doctor can then combine the results of this test (which is given as a number called a T-score) with other risk factors like your age and gender to determine your actual risk of breaking a bone in the next 10 years.
Milk is full of calcium (the foundation of healthy bones) and vitamin D (which helps the body absorb calcium). On its own, vitamin D helps build and repair bones and keeps muscles strong, which reduces the risk of falls. Aim for 1,200 mg of calcium a day—the amount in about four glasses of nonfat milk or three cups of nonfat yogurt—and 1,000 IU of vitamin D. If you don’t do dairy, drink calcium- and vitamin D-fortified orange juice, and consider taking supplements.
Don’t Smoke, Limit Drinking
Smoking increases the rate of bone loss. Women who smoke have lower levels of estrogen and tend to hit menopause sooner, both of which accelerate bone loss.
If you drink, keep it to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. Anything more will interfere with your body’s ability to absorb calcium and will also slow new bone formation.
Meat in Moderation
The popular saying suggests all things in moderation, and meat is no exception when it comes to healthy bones. Calcium and phosphorous help the body digest animal protein. Eating too much red meat, fish, pork, and poultry can sap these resources from the bone. But protein deficiency hinders calcium absorption in the intestines. Limit your animal protein intake to no more than twice a day, and eat small portions—about 3 ounces, the size of a deck of cards.
Ask Mom & Dad
Genes determine a lot of factors that affect your overall bone health—including your bone size and bone mass, when you’ll go through menopause, and how well your body uses calcium and vitamin D. These traits are passed down from father to son and mother to daughter. By knowing your family history, you can take appropriate steps to intervene, including earlier screening and use of medication
Cut Back on Sodium
Too much sodium causes calcium to leach out of your bones and get excreted in your urine. To keep more calcium in your bones (and less in the toilet bowl), follow a low-sodium diet by cutting down on processed foods and keeping the salt shaker off the table.
Weight-bearing exercises—activities that force you to work against gravity—strengthen bone by stimulating bone-building cells called osteoblasts. High-impact exercises like running, tennis, basketball, and kickboxing strengthen bones the fastest, but even more moderate regimens do the trick. If high-impact moves aren’t safe for you, try brisk walking or simple vertical jumps instead.
Flex Those Muscles
Every time you flex your muscles, tendons—which attach muscle to bone—tug on your bones stimulating them to grow. Therefore, any exercise that helps build muscle (lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing yoga) will also help build bone. You don’t even have to leave your house, just strap on 1- or 2-lb. wrist and ankle weights while doing chores at home. Another plus: Strong muscles improve your balance and coordination so you’re less likely to fall.
Bonus Tip: Protect Against Falls
In later stages of osteoporosis, simply walking around your home can lead to accidents. But several simple, DIY fixes can reduce your risk of falling and breaking a bone.
Secure rugs so they won’t slip
Remove clutter from walkways
Install night lights in hallways
Use a no-skid rubber mat in the bathtub
Install a grab bar in the shower
Make sure your slippers have rubber soles