Bone Health Matters: How to Maintain Strong Bones as You Age
As you get older, your body isn’t going to hold up like it always did, no matter how active you continue to be. You’ll likely feel the impact of aging particularly in your bones’ structure and strength. However, you can continue doing activities you love if you know what warning signs to watch out for and how to maintain bone health.
Anyone, regardless of age and especially those who are active, can slip or fall at any time. Older people, however, are more likely to suffer a fracture to the hip, spine, or wrist as a result, especially if they have osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis stems from an imbalance in a normal bodily process called resorption and formation, where bones are continually broken down and rebuilt by the body. Bone loss occurs when more is broken down than rebuilt, causing bones to lose their density and become weak over time. Osteoporosis, or porous bone, is the end result of this unchecked bone loss.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 54 million Americans either have osteoporosis or are at high risk for developing it. Asians, Caucasians, and women — especially those with small body frames — are more likely to lose bone mass. A person might not even know they have osteoporosis until a fracture reveals the diagnosis.
Causes of Bone Loss
The normal process of formation and resorption peaks and then begins to reverse at roughly 30 years old. Other causes of bone loss may occur singly or in conjunction with one another. Some of these include:
- Gastrointestinal diseases
- Chemotherapy treatments
- Hormonal changes brought on by menopause
- Lack of physical activity
- A diet low in calcium and/or vitamin D
- Medications, especially steroids
- Decreased testosterone
Prevention and Treatment: Diet, Exercise, and Medications
Just like so many other health issues, bone loss is often preventable. Firstly, nutrition is a major component to good bone health. A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, both of which are available in supplements, is very important. Sources of calcium include dairy products and green leafy vegetables, and the recommended daily intake depends on age and gender.
Adequate amounts of Vitamin D are necessary for the body to properly absorb calcium from food and other sources. The vitamin is manufactured by the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. It is also obtained from dietary sources such as egg yolks and certain kinds of fish. Adults should have 400–800 IU of vitamin D every day but should up their intake to 800–1,000 IU beginning in their 50s.
Adequate amounts of physical activity are also important to bone health. Like muscles, bones benefit from strengthening exercises. Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking or practically anything else that gets a person moving against gravity, are best when performed for 30 minutes per day. Weightlifting and other resistance exercises are helpful, too, and should be done two or three days per week. Making other lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol intake, are also vitally important.
Screening tools such as bone-mineral density tests are very effective in determining the level of bone loss. Based on these results, doctors may prescribe drugs to slow the process. Women should discuss the impact of estrogen therapy on bone loss with their health care providers. There’s a range of medications appropriate for men and/or women (including postmenopausal women). Some slow advancing bone loss, while some actually build bone.
There is no cure for osteoporosis, but its effects and progression are minimized with early diagnosis. As with many other health conditions, the right way to prevent and combat bone loss is to make lifestyle changes that are positive for your overall health. If you keep a good diet and exercise consistently, consider better bone health one of many benefits of healthy living.