When you think of your health and fitness do you ever consider what impact having strong bones can have on your quality of life? Strong bones are vital for living an active, healthy life at any age. When considering bone health, it is important to understand what they do and how to keep them functioning optimally.
Bones provide a structural framework, among other vital roles. The tendons from muscles are attached to the skeleton, giving support to soft tissue, and allowing us to be mobile. They also act as armor that protects our precious internal organs, such as the heart and lungs. Less visible functions that bones have on our body include storing minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, and producing red and white blood cells, and platelets, where each respectively; carry oxygen to our tissues and remove carbon dioxide (making them vital for survival.) Despite the many life-sustaining roles bones play, few people take the time to understand how bones develop and age, what causes them to weaken and what steps can be taken to keep them strong and healthy
Bones, like any other living tissue, are constantly breaking down and rebuilding themselves. Throughout childhood and adolescence, our bones are exploding with rapid growth. Up to 90% of peak bone mass is acquired by the age of 16-20 in females and 20-25 in males. Bones continue to grow until around age 30, when they have reached their maximum strength and density. Unfortunately for ladies, during the post-menopausal years there is rapid bone loss. This loss can lead to osteoporosis; a condition that causes bones to become thin, porous, and weak leading to increased risk of fractures. Because dealing with all the joys that menopause brings wasn’t enough! Beyond the age of 50 bones continue to weaken for both and men and women. We can take comfort however, that there are factors within our control that can reduce the risk of brittle bones and osteoporosis. Paying a little more attention to diet, exercise and lifestyle choices can keep your bones strong and healthy at any age.
Calcium is a major building block of our bones. The daily recommended intake for adults is 1000-1300 mg that can be consumed from a variety of foods. Excellent sources of calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, green vegetables, dried fruit, tofu and sardines. Even with a calcium-rich diet, your body can only absorb it with the help of vitamin D, which makes Vitamin D a key player in keeping bones strong and healthy. Although our skin makes vitamin D when exposed to the sun, most people probably aren’t getting enough during winter months. The daily recommended intake of vitamin D is 200 IU and as we age and lose bone density we need more. In fact, double this amount is required over the age of 50 and triple the amount over the age of 65. Vitamin D sources from food are limited to include egg yolks, canned fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines. There are however some foods that are actually fortified with both calcium and vitamin D, such as dairy products, orange juice and cereal. If you still can’t seem to meet your daily requirements through the food you eat, supplementation is another option. Be sure to choose vitamin D3 and calcium citrate as they are better absorbed and utilized by the body compared to vitamin D2 and other forms of calcium such as calcium carbonate. Finally, don’t exceed the recommended daily amount! This may lead to toxicity and health complications.
Just like our muscles, exercising helps to strengthen and improve overall bone health. Bone is a living tissue that adapts when put under stress. As a result, the bones build more cells and become denser. Two types of exercise that are important for building and maintaining bone density are;
- Weight bearing exercises
- Weight-bearing exercises include activities that make you move against gravity while staying upright, and can be high or low impact. Examples of high-impact weight-bearing exercises to keep bones strong are hiking, running, jumping rope, soccer and tennis.
- Low-impact weight-bearing exercises are a safe alternative, which include elliptical and stair-climbing machines, dancing and brisk walking.
- Muscle-strengthening exercises
- Muscle-strengthening exercises involve moving your body, a weight, or some other resistance against gravity, also known as resistance training (lifting weights, using elastic exercise bands or machines and lifting your own body weight such as push ups or pull ups).
If you are unsure where to start when it comes to exercise? As a rule of thumb; 30 minutes of bone building exercise 5 times per week can significantly improve bone health.
Controllable lifestyle choices can have a major impact on your bone health, and reduce the risk of fractures by up to 50%. Smoking cigarettes and consumption of alcohol are associated with reduced bone mass and weaker bones. More than two alcoholic drinks per day may impair the body’s ability to absorb calcium and increase the risk of fracture. So if you want to preserve bone mass, don’t smoke and keep alcohol at a minimum.
Bone health is like a long-term investment; similar to the ones you make through out life towards your retirement. The small deposits and care that you take over the years will benefit you later in life. Proper diet, exercise and the lifestyle decisions you make will maintain your bone health and increase your quality of life.