Good bones set you up for a successful life, but what sets you up for good bones? While bone health is determined in part by genetics and gender, lifestyle choices influence your bone health too. Osteoporosis is a disease of bone mineral density and bone strength. Over 10 million Americans are affected by this form of bone loss, with numbers expected to rise.
Why does bone health matter?
When our bones are weak, we’re more at risk of developing osteoporosis, a condition where the bones are susceptible to injury and breaking. Osteoporosis often leads to broken hips, knees, and arms, which disrupt our daily lives. Osteoporosis is a disease of bone mineral density and bone strength. Over 10 million Americans are affected by this form of bone loss, with numbers expected to rise.
When you improve or maintain your bone health, you commit to a physically active future with fewer broken bones.
Who’s Most at Risk?
If you’re a postmenopausal woman, you’re in the most at-risk group for osteoporosis. In fact, 1 in 3 women over 50 have osteoporosis, while less than 1 in 4 men over 50 have this condition. Aside from gender and age, race can also contribute to bone loss. Native Americans have the highest incidence.
Luckily, there are three small lifestyle changes you can make to improve your bone health.
What are the contributors to bone loss? Read on.
A diet high in refined sugars and inflammatory oils can lead to oxidative damage to the endothelial lining of blood vessels and organs. This same oxidative stress induces an immune response which increases cortisol and pulls calcium from the bone to these areas of inflammation. The Standard American Diet is devoid of calcium-rich foods and phytonutrients, and antioxidants that can prevent this process.
Americans take a lot of medications. In fact, 66% of Americans take some form of prescription drug. Some of these medications can contribute to bone loss. For example, Proton Pump Inhibitors ( PPIs) and other acid-suppressing drugs are associated with bone loss and an increased risk of osteoporosis. PPIs are widely prescribed and account for one of the most common medications taken in the US. These medications work by reducing the amount of stomach acid produced. This reduction can inhibit the breakdown of proteins in foods, reducing amino acids and nutrients necessary for bone health.
Other common medications affecting bone health include steroids, diuretics, antidepressants, seizure medications, and some chemotherapy drugs.
Nutrient Deficiencies? Got Calcium?
Those milk commercials were right about one thing: calcium affects your bones. The recommended daily calcium intake for postmenopausal women is between 400 to 1,000mg.
While you can get calcium from milk, there are dairy-free alternatives, which are sometimes more effective. These include:
- Taking a calcium supplement
- Including soy products, such as tofu, in your diet
- Snacking on almonds, broccoli, or kale, which are all high in calcium
The time of day when you have a calcium-rich snack or take your supplement matters too. A 2022 study found that it’s best to take calcium early morning or late afternoon since calcium levels are naturally lowest during those two times. However, taking calcium is not enough. Several other nutrients are necessary to get calcium into the bones. For example, Vitamin D increases calcium absorption and utilization. Vitamin K is needed to make osteocalcin, a compound that helps bind calcium in the bone. Other key players include magnesium, boron, and B vitamins. Optimize intake of all these nutrients with a bone-specific supplement and a whole foods diet.
Spend time in the sun
When it comes to improving or maintaining bone health, fun in the sun should be your mantra! That’s because the sun is a great source of Vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. Once absorbed, calcium helps the body build stronger bones.
If you spend at least 20 minutes in the sun between noon and 3 pm (when the sun is at its highest intensity), you will get enough Vitamin D., But the weather doesn’t always cooperate. There are a couple easy ways to increase your Vitamin D levels no matter the weather:
- Talk with your doctor about a Vitamin D supplement
- Eat foods that contain Vitamin D, such as salmon, tuna, and egg yolks
- Practice light therapy with a UV lamp
Don’t Skip Workouts
Your bones don’t appreciate it when you skip the gym. Lack of movement and muscle contribute to a reduction in bone density. And muscle mass can directly be related to weakness, gait instability, loss of balance, and a reduction of bone density. As we age past 35, we can lose up to 3% of our muscle mass. This loss, called sarcopenia, is associated with bone loss, falls and fractures associated with osteoporosis.
Women who are physically active are at a lower risk for osteoporosis because daily movement strengthens the bones.
A 2018 study compared a group of postmenopausal women who took a daily Vitamin D supplement and did at least thirty minutes of exercise to a control group. The results? The postmenopausal women who exercised and took a Vitamin D supplement had stronger bones.
Try to move your body for at least twenty minutes daily if you can. Exercises incorporating body weight, such as running, strength training, and walking, may be the most effective.
Osteoporosis is a disease that affects many Americans. Since there are no signs or symptoms of osteoporosis until it is a problem, it is important that individuals take a more preventative approach to optimize bone health and prevent any accelerated bone loss. Our lifestyle choices need to start early but prioritizing healthy nutrition through a whole foods diet free of inflammatory additives and sugar, excessive alcohol, and preservatives as well as stress reduction and engaging in weight-bearing and strength exercises, are necessary steps in preventing and treating osteoporosis.