When it comes to bone mass and strong and healthy bones, we hit our peaks around age 30. Up to that point, our bodies create new bone faster than existing bone breaks down, giving us a net gain. All is not lost after age 30, however. The good news is that we have it within our reach to stave off or at least delay bone loss, take care of our bones, and maybe even strengthen them. Proper care of our bones should involve a healthy mix of diet, physical activity and assorted lifestyle choices all aimed at enhancing bone mass. Our bones not only provide a framed structure for our bodies, they protect vital organs throughout our body, anchor our muscles and store calcium. When it comes to contemplating the future of our bone health, one word often comes to mind – osteoporosis, something to be avoided. It is a condition in which bones become brittle and fragile due to loss of tissue; the result of either hormonal changes (such as during menopause for women, when estrogen levels drop) or a deficiency of calcium or vitamin D. Eventually, bones grow weaker and become more susceptible to breaks or fractures, such as in a fall or even from a minor bump or hard sneeze. This is not just an old person's problem. While osteoporosis is rarely diagnosed in teens or people in their 20s or 30s, a history of poor eating habits (i.e., junk food day after day) and lack of exercise in younger people can come back to haunt them later in life when their lack of bone mass starts catching up with them earlier than it should. Genetics (family history) can also be a factor, which is why it's wise to start getting bone-density tests done at the doctor's if you have any suspicion you might be at heightened risk of excessive bone loss. Regardless your age, now is as good a time as any to start, well, boning up on bone health. Here are some do's and don'ts when it comes to improving or at least maintaining strong bones:
Do's for Healthy Bones
- Consume sufficient calcium daily. Of the various minerals that comprise bone, calcium is No. 1 in terms of importance. Food rich in calcium include dairy staples such as milk, cheese and yogurt as well as greens like spinach and collard greens. If dairy products don't sit well with you, there are plenty of other choices out there. There are also plenty of great calcium supplements on the market.
- Go for the vitamin D as well. It works in tandem with calcium to enhance the latter's absorption by bones. D sources include shrimp, cereals, sardines and tuna. Supplements, too, of course. While you're at it, stock up on (and be sure to use) vitamin K, zinc, magnesium and potassium. Potassium is a relatively new entry in the bone-mass conversation, but it's been shown to neutralize acids that remove calcium from the body.
- Hit the gym. Experts have found weight-bearing and high-impact exercise to work well at promoting new bone formation to go with the increase in muscle mass; a two-fer. This works just as well for you old fogies out there (of which this writer is one).
- Research your family history. Anyone have bone issues you need to be aware of? Mom? Dad? Auntie Edna? Gramps?
- Get a bone-density test done. Why not?
Don'ts for Healthy Bones
- If you drink alcohol, cut back – way back if you must. Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to loss of bone mineral density.
- Don't smoke. Ditto.
- Lose weight, if overweight or obese. Excess weight is tough on the bone structure. Just ask your knees. Note: weight-loss surgery can be detrimental to your body's ability to absorb calcium, per mayoclinic.org.
- Gain weight if extremely thin or have a small body frame. Otherwise, you risk having less bone mass in your tank to draw on as you age and natural gradual bone loss takes over. This word of warning applies to anyone suffering from anorexia or bulimia as well.
- Avoid substance abuse. In terms of bone health, substance abuse falls into the same category as tobacco use or excess-alcohol use.