It’s easy to dismiss weak bones as a problem that only afflicts elderly people. But bones are your body’s support system, providing structure, protecting organs, anchoring muscles, and storing calcium. Keeping them healthy and strong is important for people of all ages.
Here, we’ll help you bone up on the need-to-know basics about bone health and show you how you can feed your bones to increase bone density.
How Bones Grow
Our bodies spend their first three decades building bone and typically reach peak bone mass around age 30. In the years before reaching peak bone mass, the body creates new bone quickly — but after the age of 30, bone growth slows and more bone is lost than gained.
The Bone Bank
Some people have a great deal of savings in their “bone bank” thanks to factors like diet, genetics, and lifestyle choices they made as teens and young adults. But for those who aren’t so lucky, osteopenia and osteoporosis can set in and render bones weak, brittle, and prone to fractures.
These conditions are most prevalent in women over the age of 65 and men over the age of 70, and it’s easy to dismiss them as being “far off.” But since these conditions are both hard to reverse — and since there’s no way to be sure you won’t contract them — it’s best to take steps early in life to increase bone density.
How to Feed Your Bones
Here’s how you can feed your bones and increase bone density:
- Boost Calcium Consumption. When most people think about bones and nutrition, calcium is the first thing that comes to mind. Calcium is a mineral that’s essential for the proper development of teeth and bones — and important for muscle function, nerve signaling, hormone secretion, and blood pressure regulation. Talk with your doctor and make sure you’re getting enough calcium for your age group.
- Eat Your Greens. While many people think that drinking milk is the best way to absorb calcium, studies have shown that milk consumption may lead to the breakdown of calcium in the bones. According to numerous NIH studies, there is a higher risk of bone fractures linked to those that drink milk more frequently. It is recommended that we find calcium in leafy greens such kale, spinach, and broccoli, as well as tofu, fish and bone broth.
- Don’t Forget the Vitamins. Calcium is important, but it’s not the be-all, end-all.
- Vitamin D: You can help your body absorb calcium by boosting your Vitamin D intake. In addition to a variety of foods that are rich in Vitamin D, there’s one easy way to make sure you’re getting enough: go outside. Your body produces Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight — 10 to 15 minutes of exposure three times per week will do.
- Vitamin K: Vitamin K helps the body make protein for healthy bones and can help the body reduce the amount of calcium it excretes.
- Potassium Helps, Too. Potassium is most commonly known for helping nerves and muscles communicate and for helping the body’s cells remove waste. But potassium may also help neutralize the acids that remove calcium from the body.
- Moderate Your Caffeine Intake. While caffeine does have health benefits, too much of it can accelerate bone loss in people who also aren’t getting enough calcium. Consult with your doctor and be sure your caffeine intake isn’t having an adverse effect on the health of your bones.
- Make Exercise A Priority. Vitamins and minerals aren’t the only things that feed your bones. Living a sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for osteopenia and osteoporosis. To keep bones strong, engage in regular weight-bearing activities, like stair climbing and walking.
If you’re concerned about your bone health or your risk factors for osteopenia and osteoporosis, talk with your doctor and ask if a bone density test is right for you. If you’ve suffered past injuries, especially those involving bone fractures, check with an orthopaedic specialist to ensure the injury is fully healed and you aren’t at risk for additional injury.