Protecting your bone health is easier than you think. Understand how diet, physical activity and other lifestyle factors can affect your bone mass — here’s how to keep your bones strong and healthy
Why is bone health important?
Your body is constantly changing. New bone is created when old bone is broken down. When you’re young, your body is able to form new bone quicker than it can break down old bone — this is why bone mass increases. A majority of the population peak bone mass around the age of 30.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle. The likelihood of you developing osteoporosis depends on how much bone mass you attain when you’re younger. Essentially, the more bone mass accumulated before the age of 30, the less likely you are to develop osteoporosis.
What affects bone health?
A number of factors can affect bone health. For example:
The amount of calcium in your diet
A diet low in calcium contributes to diminished bone density, early bone loss and an increased risk of fractures.
People who are physically inactive have a higher risk of osteoporosis than their more-active counterparts.
Tobacco and alcohol use
Research suggests that tobacco use contributes to weak bones. Similarly, regularly having more than one alcoholic drink a day for women or two alcoholic drinks a day for men may increase the risk of osteoporosis.
You're at greater risk of osteoporosis if you're a woman, because women have less bone tissue than men.
You're at risk if you are extremely thin (with a body mass index of 19 or less) or have a small body frame because you might have less bone mass to draw from as you age.
Your bones become thinner and weaker as you age.
Race and family history
You're at greatest risk of osteoporosis if you're white or of Asian descent. In addition, having a parent or sibling who has osteoporosis puts you at greater risk — especially if you also have a family history of fractures.
Too much thyroid hormone can cause bone loss. In women, bone loss increases dramatically at menopause due to dropping oestrogen levels. Prolonged absence of menstruation (amenorrhea) before menopause also increases the risk of osteoporosis. In men, low testosterone levels can cause a loss of bone mass.
Eating disorders and other conditions
People who have anorexia or bulimia are at risk of bone loss. In addition, stomach surgery (gastrectomy), weight-loss surgery, and conditions such as Crohn's disease, celiac disease and Cushing's disease can affect your body's ability to absorb calcium.
Long-term use of corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, cortisone, prednisolone and dexamethasone, is damaging to bone. Other drugs that might increase the risk of osteoporosis include aromatase inhibitors to treat breast cancer, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, methotrexate, some anti-seizure medications, such as phenytoin (Dilantin) and phenobarbital, and proton pump inhibitors.
What can I do to improve my bone health?
You can take a few simple steps to prevent or slow bone loss. For example:
Include plenty of calcium in your diet
For adults ages 19 to 50 and men ages 51 to 70, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day. The recommendation increases to 1,200 mg a day for women after age 50 and for men after age 70.
Good sources of calcium include dairy products, almonds, broccoli, kale, canned salmon with bones, sardines and soy products, such as tofu. If you find it difficult to get enough calcium from your diet, ask your doctor about supplements.
Pay attention to vitamin D
Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. For adults ages 19 to 70, the RDA of vitamin D is 600 international units (IUs) a day. The recommendation increases to 800 IUs a day for adults aged 71 and older.
Good sources of vitamin D include oily fish, such as salmon, trout, whitefish and tuna. Additionally, mushrooms, eggs and fortified foods, such as milk and cereals, are good sources of vitamin D. Sunlight also contributes to the body's production of vitamin D. If you're worried about getting enough vitamin D, ask your doctor about supplements.
Include physical activity in your daily routine
Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging, and climbing stairs, can help you build strong bones and slow bone loss.
Avoid substance abuse
Don't smoke. If you’re a woman, avoid drinking more than one alcoholic drink each day. If you are a man, avoid drinking more than two alcoholic drinks a day.