Characterized by weak and brittle bones, osteoporosis and its precursor osteopenia affect 44 million Americans and lead to more than 2 million bone fractures every year, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
There’s a lot you can do to keep your bones strong and lower your risk of osteoporosis. It’s never too early to start. Think of your bones as a retirement savings account: You need to bank a lot of funds when you’re young so that you have plenty to draw upon as you get older. Bones reach peak density by the early 30s, according to the Mayo Clinic. From then on, your job is to keep those levels up by getting enough calcium and vitamin D, exercising, and taking other steps.
Think of your bones as a retirement savings account; you need to bank a lot of funds when you’re young so that 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.
Osteoporosis is often called a silent disease because you won’t display obvious, outward symptoms until a bone breaks — obviously not a sign you want to wait for. A bone mineral density (BMD) test can tell you how strong your bones are. The results of this test are given as a number called a T-score. Your doctor can combine your 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 (helps the body absorb calcium). Additionally, vitamin D helps build and repair bones and keeps muscles strong, which reduces the risk of falls.
Women age 50 and younger and men age 70 and younger should aim for 1,000 mg of calcium per day, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Older men and women should aim for 1,200 mg of calcium a day. This is the equivalent of about four glasses of nonfat milk or three cups of nonfat yogurt. Men and women under the age of 50 should aim to consume 400-800 IU of vitamin D per day. People over the age of 50 should aim for 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily.
If you don’t eat dairy, drink calcium- and vitamin D-fortified orange juice, or nondairy fortified milks like soy, almond, or coconut milks, you should consider taking supplements. You can also get vitamin D from sunlight exposure.
Smoking increases the rate of bone loss. Women who smoke have lower levels of estrogen and tend to hit menopause at a younger age, 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, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The popular saying “all things in moderation” definitely applies to meat, especially 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.
On the other hand, protein deficiency hinders calcium absorption in the intestines. The solution? Limit your animal protein intake to no more than twice a day, and eat small portions—about 3 ounces, or the size of a deck of cards.
Genetic traits determine a lot of factors that affect your overall bone health, including your bone size, 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 for osteoporosis and use of appropriate medications.
Too much sodium causes calcium to leach out of your bones and then be expelled through the urine, according to the Cleveland Clinic. 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 saltshaker 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. Exercise regimens that are even more moderate do the trick too. Try brisk walking or simple vertical jumps instead, if high-impact moves aren’t safe for you.
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 density and strength.
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.
In later stages of osteoporosis, simply walking around your home can lead to accidents. However, several simple DIY fixes can reduce your risk of falls and breaks. For example, you can:
- secure rugs so they won’t slip
- remove clutter from walkways
- install night lights in hallways and bathrooms
- use a no-skid rubber mat in the bathtub
- install a grab bar in the shower
- make sure your slippers have rubber soles