Bones are a critically important part of your body. Your bones give you structure and allow you to move normally. They protect your vital organs and hold your muscles in place. They store calcium and other minerals needed by the rest of your body. As you age, your bones cannot make new tissue as quickly as they once did. To keep your bones strong and healthy over time, you need to eat well, get exercise, and make other good health choices.

Osteoporosis and the Importance of Good Bone Health

Throughout your life, your bones are always changing. Your older bone tissue breaks down and new growth takes its place. When you are younger, this turnover happens quickly, making your bones very dense and strong. As you get older, the process slows down, and your bones begin to lose mass faster than they can replace it.

If you do not maintain good bone health throughout your life, your bones can deteriorate and weaken quickly as you age. Neglecting your bone health also means an increased risk of developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition in old age that results from having weakened and porous bones. It can lead to several broken bones, especially in the wrists, hips, and spine, as well as the complications that come with these fractures and breaks.

Factors in Bone Health

There are many factors that affect the health and strength of your bones. Some things are good for your bones and help to strengthen them, while others speed up the natural weakening of your bones. Some of the major factors to bone health include:

  • Diet: Eating a good diet with all necessary nutrients is important for bone health. A poor diet, deficient in nutrients, can weaken your bones over time.
  • Physical activity: People who are inactive tend to have weaker bones, while those who get plenty of exercise have stronger bones.
  • Gender: Women are at greater risk for weak bones and osteoporosis.
  • Weight: Very thin people are at greater risk for osteoporosis because they have less bone mass to begin with.
  • Family history: Those who have a family history of the condition are more likely to have osteoporosis as they age.
  • Race: If you are white or Asian, you are at a greater risk for osteoporosis.
  • Hormones: Having an overproduction of thyroid hormones leads to bone loss. Women at menopause are at greater risk for osteoporosis because of falling levels of the hormone estrogen.
  • Medications: Certain medications, including corticosteroids, breast cancer drugs, anti-seizure medications, and others taken over the long-term can weaken your bones.

Maintaining Good Bone Health

Even if you have risk factors for osteoporosis, there are many things that you can do to maintain strong and dense bones for as long as possible. Starting early is important. When young, you accumulate bone mass and reach a peak density around the age of 30. After that, your bone mass declines. Even in decline, though, you can do things to maintain the strength that you have in your bones.

Calcium

Calcium is a dietary mineral that is important for many of your body’s functions and is essential for bone health. Get plenty of calcium by eating low-fat dairy products, dark green and leafy vegetables, almonds, and foods fortified with calcium. You can also take a supplement. Your doctor can recommend an amount, but doses for adults range from 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams per day.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is another nutrient that is important for bone health. You can get vitamin D from being in the sun, but if you are protecting your skin, you can also take a supplement or eat foods with vitamin D. Include oily fish, eggs, and fortified milk in your diet and ask your doctor for a recommended supplement dose.

Exercise

In addition to a good diet with calcium and vitamin D, physical activity is important for bone health. In particular, weight-bearing exercises help to keep bones strong. Good types of exercise for bone health include walking, jogging, climbing stairs, jumping rope, dancing, playing tennis, or playing basketball.

Cigarettes and Alcohol

If you smoke, you should quit for optimum bone health. Smoking cigarettes is linked with a greater risk of osteoporosis (Mayo Clinic, 2013). Drinking alcohol also carries this risk. Cut down your use of alcohol if you have more than one to two drinks several times per week.

See your Doctor

If you are older and are concerned about losing bone density and osteoporosis, make an appointment with your doctor for more information. Your doctor can administer a bone density test that will tell you if you are at risk and what steps you need to take to improve your bone health.