Wellness To-Do List: Keep Bones Strong and Healthy
by Dr. Jamie McManus
When you think about getting healthy, what comes to mind first? If you are like most Americans, you first think about losing weight or maybe trying to eat less fat to lower cholesterol levels. While these are both important, in my opinion there is probably nothing more critical to your health than having strong bones! Your skeleton holds you up and together. The 236 bones that make up your skeleton anchor your muscles in place and protect your vital organs—including your brain. And did you know your skeleton completely replaces itself every 12 months or so? That’s right—the cells of your bones are constantly being broken down and rebuilt again. Your highest bone density is reached in your 20s—after that, it is a lifelong process to maintain that bone density. Factors such as aging, menopause, smoking, and anorexia can increase bone loss, but everyone— yes, men and women—is at risk to develop osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become porous and less dense, and are more likely to break. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, this condition affects 44 million Americans, and by 2020, half of all American over age 50 are expected to have osteoporosis. In honor of Osteoporosis Awareness Month, here are the THREE most important things you can do to keep your bones strong and healthy:
1) Consume adequate amounts of calcium. Men and women between the ages of 18 to 50 need about 1,000 mg of calcium per day. Women over age 50 and men over age 70 should increase that total to at least 1,200 mg per day. This equates to 4 servings of dairy products such as milk or yogurt. If you don’t consume dairy products, consider fortified soy products or soy milk, and dark, leafy green vegetables (broccoli is my personal favorite). To ensure your calcium intake is adequate, consider a calcium supplement. Supplemental calcium is best absorbed when consumed in amounts of 500 mg or so and taken with a meal.
2) Get plenty of vitamin D. Vitamin D is absolutely essential for your body to absorb and utilize calcium. Recent studies suggest up to 80% of adults may have insufficient vitamin D levels in the blood. This may be due to a number of factors. Although scientists don’t know exactly what the optimal daily intake of vitamin D is yet, a good starting place is between 1,000 and 2,000 IU per day, and I urge all adults to ask your doctor to run a vitamin D blood test.
3) Exercise, exercise, exercise. It not only helps build strong bones, but it slows down bone loss. Strength-training exercises that work your upper body—your arms and upper spine—are great, especially when combined with weight-bearing activities such as walking, jogging, and stair-climbing that work your lower body—including your lower back, hips, and legs. Osteoporosis is not an inevitable part of getting older. Although some risk factors—such as age, race, and family history—can’t be changed, it’s never too late to start improving your eating habits, increasing your exercise levels, and taking supplements to help maintain your bone strength and integrity.