We spend a lot of time thinking about heart health, memory and fitness, but bone health is less often talked about. The adult body has 206 bones, which provide structure, anchor the muscles, protect the organs and store the body’s calcium.
Our bones are continuously changing, and when we’re young, our bodies make new bone faster than the old bone breaks down. Our peak bone mass occurs around age 30. After that, we begin to lose bone mass, though the rate at which we lose it varies from person to person and is affected by various things, including:
- Family history
- Hormone levels
- Alcohol and tobacco use
- Amount of calcium in the diet
- Gender, age and weight
- Amount of physical activity
- Health conditions
- Certain medications
What is osteoporosis?
The reason bone health is important is that as we age, we are at risk for osteoporosis, which is a condition where the bones become thinner and weaken, and they’re more susceptible to breaks or fractures, specifically in the spine, hip and wrist areas. Though osteoporosis can affect both men and women, it’s most common among post-menopausal women, partially because of low estrogen levels due to menopause. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, nine million adults in the U.S. currently have osteoporosis while more than 48 million are at risk for osteoporosis, as they have low bone mass.
Be proactive for your bone health
Osteoporosis is a silent health issue, as many people don’t realize they have it. But there are many things you can do to be proactive for your bone health.
- See a doctor to learn your T-score. A bone density test takes less than 20-minutes, is painless and is not invasive. The test measures your bone mineral density at the hip, spine and other locations and the result of this test is called a T-score. Your doctor can interpret the test for you. A normal T-score is between +1 and -1; if you have low bone mass your score will be between -1 and -2.5. Osteoporosis is defined as a T-score at -2.5 or lower.
- Eat a diet rich in vitamin D and calcium. A major part of our bones is composed of calcium, which keeps them hard and strong. Calcium also benefits nerve function and muscle movement, and if you don’t eat enough calcium, the body takes it from your bones, causing them to lose calcium and become less dense. Adults older than 50 should try to include 1200 milligrams of calcium in their diets, taking a supplement if necessary. Vitamin D is important because it helps the body absorb calcium and is good for balance and muscle performance. Many older adults do not get enough Vitamin D from their foods or the sun, so they should talk to their doctor about taking a supplement.
- Exercise. Try to do 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise per day, including climbing stairs and walking, and muscle-strengthening exercises two or three times per week, including using exercise bands, weight machines and free weights. Talk to your doctor about the best workout regimen for you.