Your bones serve key roles in your body-they keep you upright and provide structure, protect your organs, anchor muscles and store calcium. Your peak bone density occurs around age 30. It is critical for young people to work towards strong bones leading up to 30. After that time, bones begin to break down faster than they rebuild.

Osteoporosis is a disease where your bone breaks down causing bones to be weak and brittle and more likely to fracture with a fall. “In the US one in two women, over age 50, will experience an osteoporotic fracture.” according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. While men also suffer from osteoporosis, women make up 80% of the cases. Women are at a greater risk than men because of their smaller frames, loss of protecting estrogen after menopause, and longer lifespans. A women’s risk of breaking a hip is equal to the combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer! Your risk increases further if you are petite, have genetic risk factors, are an older white or Asian woman, or if you missed out on bone strengthening in your formative years.

There are things you can do NOW to improve your bone health and help reduce your risk of osteoporosis and/or the falls that lead to a fracture:

1. Eat your vegetables. Veggies contain loads of Vitamin C, which stimulates the production of bone-forming cells. The antioxidant effects of Vitamin C may protect our bones from damage. Studies have shown that 9 daily servings of leafy greens…think kale and broccoli, decreased bone turnover.

2. Strength train. Resistance training with your body weight, bands or weights encourages the growth of new bone cells and protects bone. Strong muscles support bones and help prevent falls.

3. Include weight-bearing exercise. Exercise makes bones and muscles stronger, prevents bone loss and even promotes the formation of new bone. Walking, running, tennis, and dancing all count. Get at least 30 minutes of bone strengthening exercise most days.

4. Consume enough protein. Your bones are made up of 50% protein. Protein helps your body absorb calcium. Protein can help protect bones during weight loss and aging. Emphasize lean protein like chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy, and plant based options like soy, quinoa, nuts, and chickpeas.

5. Get enough daily calcium. Calcium is the main mineral in bones. Women over age 50 should shoot for 1200 to 1500 mg per day. Calcium rich foods include dairy products, salmon, tofu, almonds, green leafy vegetables, dried figs, and calcium fortified foods. Supplements can augment calcium intake but your body will absorb less than it does through food. Discuss supplementation with your doctor.

6. Get enough Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Generally the best source, of Vitamin D, is 20 minutes in the sun. In northern climates, it may be hard to get enough in the winter. Vitamin D is also found in some fatty fish, eggs, and fortified foods. Again talk to your doctor about the appropriate amount of supplements.

7. Avoid very low calorie diets. These diets generally do not provide enough calcium, protein and other critical vitamins and minerals to support bone health.

8. Maintain a healthy body weight. Being overweight or underweight are both associated with bone loss. The pattern of losing and gaining weight (yoyo dieting) can be detrimental to bone health.

9. Continually work on your balance to prevent falls. Practice one leg moves, balance while closing your eyes, and regularly walk on uneven surfaces like grass or sand. Include strengthening exercises for your core, which is an important component of balance.

10. Consider Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Estrogen helps slow bone loss and improves the bodies absorption and retention of calcium. Risks associated with HRT make this a difficult decision. You and your doctor can weigh the pros and cons of HRT for those dealing with osteoporosis.

11. Reduce your alcohol intake and quit smoking. Alcohol interferes with Calcium and Vitamin D absorption and messes with hormones…to say nothing of the risk of falls. The incidence of fractures is increased among individuals that smoke cigarettes.

If you are worried about your bone health talk to your doctor about getting a bone density test. This x-ray is generally performed on your spine and hip to determine the mineral density of your bones. Knowing this information may lead you improve your bone health and prevent fractures.

Bone health is important, no matter your age or whether you are a woman or a man. If you are under the age of 30, take steps to achieve maximum bone density. Over 30, follow the above guidelines to help keep your bones strong and avoid excessive bone loss. For older adults, take preventive steps to prevent falls including daily balance and core exercises and controlling your environment by eliminating tripping hazards.

by Christy Coughlin, Wellness Coach

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