Osteoporosis Tips: Build Stronger Bones:
If you think of your body as a building, your bones are the framing.
Without strong bones the whole thing would collapse. And that's a good
analogy for what happens when we don't take good care of our bones. Over
time, the body loses more and more bone, until we develop osteoporosis and
it "collapses," in the form of bones fracturing.
About half of all women over 50, and about one out of every four men, will
break a bone because of osteoporosis, a condition of weakening bone that
affects about 10 million Americans, with some 34 million more at risk.
Why Do Bones Weaken as We Age?
During childhood and adolescence, your body makes bone tissue (formation)
faster than you lose it (resorption). By the time you're 18 to 20 years
old, you've built up about 90% of all the bone you'll ever have. Most
people continue to build bone faster than they lose it until about age 30,
a point that's known as "peak bone mass." From then on, the rate of bone
building slows down and the rate of bone loss picks up.
You can't get back bone once it's lost, but you can help maximize bone
formation and minimize bone loss, which can lead to osteoporosis.
Researchers estimate that things you have no control over -- such as
genetic factors, sex, age, and race -- control about 50% to 90% of your
bone mass. But you can help protect your bones and reduce the risk of
osteoporosis in two key ways: nutrition and exercise.
Nutrition for Strong Bones
If you want to build stronger bones, you need three key elements: calcium,
protein, and vitamin D. Bones are largely made up of a protein -- collagen
-- bound together by calcium and other trace minerals). Vitamin D helps
your body absorb calcium so it can do its job building strong bones.
In 2010, the Institute of Medicine released new guidelines as to just how
much calcium and vitamin D people need. Most adults, should get between 600
and 800 international units (IUs) of vitamin D every day, and between 1,000
and 1,300 milligrams (mg) of calcium daily The higher levels are for
postmenopausal women, adolescent girls, and women who are pregnant or
"It's pretty easy to figure out how much calcium you're getting," says
Deborah Sellmeyer, MD, medical director of the Johns Hopkins Metabolic Bone
Center. "Just from eating random, non-calcium-rich foods, your diet
contains about 250 mg of calcium daily. To get up to what you need --
whether it's about 1,000 for the average adult, or higher for adolescent
girls and postmenopausal women -- you'll need to add more calcium-rich
There are lots of ways to get plenty of calcium in your diet. Dairy
products like milk, yogurt, and cheese have plenty of calcium, as well as
protein. "But you don't have to be a dairy person to get good dietary
sources of calcium," Sellmeyer says. Other options include:
Fortified juices, cereals, and oatmeal
Beans and legumes
Dark leafy greens, like broccoli and bok choy
Salmon and sardines with bones
Certain nuts, such as almonds
"You can pick and choose from a wide variety of sources, and can vary it
day by day. On the days when you don't get as much calcium, you can take a
supplement, such as calcium citrate," says Sellmeyer.
For vitamin D, often called the key that unlocks calcium in your body, the
Institute of Medicine recommends between 600 and 800 IU per day. That's
harder to get, because our bodies mostly synthesize vitamin D in response
to sunlight. "Between November and March, most places anywhere north of,
say, Oklahoma, don't get enough UV rays to make vitamin D even if you stay
out all day on a sunny winter day," Sellmeyer says. Good sources of vitamin
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna
Cod liver oil
Fortified dairy products
Fortified orange juice
The IOM's recommendations about vitamin D have, in fact, been somewhat
controversial. Many bone experts suggest that they're on the low end of
optimal. "They're a good place to start, and probably good recommendations
for the general public," says Sellmeyer. "But if you have bone issues -- a
history of fractures, say, or long-term steroid use, or a lot of
osteoporosis in your family -- you may need to see a doctor and get your D
Don't forget the third nutritional building block of strong bones:
protein. Your diet should contain plenty of lean protein sources, such as
lean meats and fish, beans, and cheese.
See all LifeSource Vitamins Bone Building Supplements, Articles , and
Exercise Your Right to Strong Bones
One way to see just how important exercise is to bone health is to look at
what happens to bone strength when people don't exercise.
"People who have been put on bed rest, people who undergo limb
immobilizations, and astronauts, who have very reduced physical activity
because of the minimal actions of gravity and muscles pulling on the bone
-- they all see a rapid and profound effect on the skeletal system," says
Wendy Kohrt, PhD, a professor of medicine and the director of research for
geriatric medicine at the University of Colorado. "People confined to bed
rest for even four months lose about 10% of their bone density in critical
regions of the skeleton. It takes a very long time to get that back."
Kohrt says the evidence shows that weight-bearing exercise can build about
1% to 3% of bone. That may not sound like a lot, but exercise may also
strengthen existing bone in ways that are harder to quantify. Research from
the landmark Nurses' Health Study (NHANES) shows that women who walk at
least four hours per week reduce their risk of hip fracture by about 40%.
Weight-bearing exercises include walking, dancing, jogging, playing
tennis. Swimming, although it's a wonderful exercise in many ways, doesn't
particularly benefit bone health because it isn't a weight-bearing
"I think that just being physically active, being up on your feet and
doing a variety of things, probably has benefits that we can't necessarily
measure if we study a small group of subjects over a brief interval of time
like one year," says Kohrt. "But if we look at a large population of people
followed for many years, that level of activity has benefits for your
There are also things you shouldn't do if you want to take care
of your bones. Tops on the no-no list: smoking. "That's definitely bad for
your skeletal health," says Kohrt. Significant bone loss has been found in
men and women who smoke, and the more and longer you smoke, the greater
your risk of fracture. Some studies even suggest that secondhand smoke
exposure in youth can increase the risk of low bone mass as an adult.
If you're wondering about your bone health, there's a quick at-home test
you can take that will assess your overall risk of fracture. Called FRAX,
it was developed by the World Health Organization to help evaluate bone
fracture risk. Just plug a few numbers into the calculator -- like your
age, height, weight, and some information such as whether you smoke or take
steroid medications -- and it will give you a percentage risk of having a
bone fracture within the next 10 years.
No matter what number you get, however, it's always worth trying to bring
it even lower with healthy lifestyle habits. Your bones support you, and
they need you to support them.
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