Part of healthy aging is keeping our bones healthy. Our bones have increased risks as we age since as we get older, our balance suffers which can lead to falling down and thus to breaking bones. Around midlife, bones become thinner making it easier for them to break. Osteoporosis becomes a concern as we grow older also. In fact, 55% of the people over 50 are at risk for developing osteoporosis. The good news is that it is never too late to improve your bone health and get on a program of healthy aging.
Nutrients for Healthy Bones
We learned way back in elementary school that we need calcium to keep our bones healthy and strong. Remember the films with the talking milk carton telling us how much milk and other dairy to eat a day? It’s not quite that simple though, especially as we get older because calcium alone is not enough. Vitamin D is also an important nutrient for bones. Vitamin D gets the calcium from the intestines and kidneys into the bloodstream. Without this nutrient, even if you get enough calcium, it can just end up leaving the body as waste and not being used to strengthen bones. Our bodies create Vitamin D mainly from our exposure to sunshine so getting outdoors a little bit everyday is important. If you are unable to do this, a Vitamin D supplement may be required. Be sure to check with your health care provider to see if this type of supplement is right for you. You can get Vitamin D from some foods.
Ideally, we get enough calcium and Vitamin D as children to get a good start on building strong bones. Bones go through a natural process called remodeling. This is a process in which old bone is constantly being broken down and replaced with new bone. When we are young the body is able to produce more new bone than it breaks down. This is the time of life when bones are able to grow the most and become strong. Making sure children get a good start on bone health will give them a head start towards healthy aging.
As we reach our 30’s we stop producing as much new bone and as we get older we begin losing more bone. In women, after menopause when estrogen levels drop, bone loss increases to a point where bone is breaking down much faster than new bone can be built to replace it. When this happens, osteoporosis can result. In fact women can lose 25%-30% of their bone density during the first 10 years after menopause. That’s a lot of bone loss! It is recommended that women who are past menopause get 1200 mg. of calcium a day. Before menopause only 1000 mg a day is recommended. There are several factors that can influence the speed at which you lose bone. Some of these are how active you are, how much calcium your body gets, family history and for women, how old you are when menopause starts. There are certain medications that can also affect bone loss, so be sure to ask your health care provider about any new medications or ones you are already taking to see if they can affect your bone health.
6 Ways to Keep Bones Healthy
Basically we can develop good bone health with many of the same healthy habits that keep the rest of the body healthy. This includes eating a variety of good foods, exercising, avoiding smoking and alcohol as well as getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Here are 6 specific ways you can increase your bone health which will lead to healthy aging.
1. Exercise –
Muscle strengthening exercises not only help some with bone loss, but also strengthen muscles which improves balance and decreases the risks of falls that can damage and break bones. 30 minutes of exercise a day is ideal or if you can’t manage that, break it up into shorter sessions throughout the day that equal up to 30 minutes total. Exercises such as fast walking, weight lifting, weight bearing type exercises and flexibility type exercises are all good for bone health. Yoga is another good exercise for bone health as it has been shown to increase bone density and improve balance.
2. Know How Much Calcium You Need –
Make sure you are getting enough calcium for your age group. It is recommended that adults get 1000 mg. a day before the age of 50. After 50, it is recommended that adults get 1200 mg. a day. Teens need more calcium than adults and have a recommended amount of 1300 mg. a day. The best way to get the calcium you need is from foods. You can take calcium supplements, but must be careful not to overdo it as taking too much calcium from supplements has been shown to cause higher risk of kidney stones. Food also has other nutrients your body needs and that help the body get the benefits from calcium. If you check the labels on your foods, you should be able to add up the amount of calcium you get in a day. Food labels that are marked as 10% or more of daily recommended calcium, high in calcium or fortified with calcium can help you get the most calcium for the calories that you can. Low fat dairy products are what we normally think of as calcium sources, but if you are not a big dairy fan or have allergies or intolerances to dairy, you can also use spinach, bok choy, mustard greens, sardines, fortified cereals and juices, beans, tofu, and fish as sources of calcium.
3. Get Enough Vitamin D –
Recommendations from The Institute of Medicine for the amount of Vitamin D to get daily are 600 IU for adults under the age of 70 and 800 IU after the age of 70. Women may also need up to 800 UI after menopause. People with specific bone problems may need even more. Your healthcare provider can help you asses how much Vitamin D you need for your particular circumstance. Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium and aids in bone remodeling. The body naturally produces Vitamin D with exposure to sunlight. You can also get Vitamin D from foods and supplements. Cod liver oil, fish such as tuna and salmon, milk fortified with Vitamin D, and egg yolks all are sources for Vitamin D.
4. Avoid Smoking and Alcohol –
Alcohol has been shown to have a negative affect on bone health. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an occasional alcoholic beverage, but using alcohol in excess does not promote healthy aging. Nicotine can damage the cells in the body that make new bone and some studies have shown smoking to increase the risk of fracturing bones. Other studies have shown though that bone density can improve fairly quickly after quitting smoking so don’t think it’s too late if you’ve been smoking for many years.
5. Add Omega-3 Fatty Acid to Your Diet –
Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids may also have an effect on bone health. Omega-3s are good for heart health and skin health, but there is also some research that these fatty acids have an effect on increasing or maintaining bone density. Olive oil, edamame, walnuts, blue green algae, wild rice, flax seeds, fish such as tuna and salmon and chia seeds are all high in omega-3.
6. Cut Down On Caffeine –
Limiting your caffeine intake can also lead to increased bone health. Don’t worry, you can still have your morning cup of coffee, but cutting down your caffeine consumption to around 300 mg. a day can reduce risks of bone fracture and to general bone health.
Whatever age you are now is the right time to get started improving your bone health. Give one or all of these 6 tips a try to get a start on good bone health today. It can make your life easier as you approach your senior years and help give you a foot up on healthy aging.
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