Why is Bone Health Important?
Understanding the significance of bone health is the first step toward taking care of your skeletal system. Bones undergo a continuous process of remodelling, with new bone being formed and old bone being broken down. During youth, the body produces new bone at a faster rate than it breaks down old bone, leading to an increase in bone mass. Typically, individuals reach their peak bone mass around the age of 30. After this point, bone remodelling continues, but the rate of bone loss exceeds the rate of bone gain.
The likelihood of developing osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weak and brittle bones, depends on the amount of bone mass attained by the age of 30 and the subsequent rate of bone loss. Higher peak bone mass reduces the risk of osteoporosis as you age because it provides a greater bone reserve. Understanding the importance of bone health motivates individuals to take proactive steps to improve and maintain their bone density.
Factors Affecting Bone Health
Several factors influence bone health. By understanding these factors, you can make informed choices to protect and strengthen your bones. Some of the key factors include:
- Calcium Intake: A diet low in calcium contributes to diminished bone density, early bone loss, and an increased risk of fractures. Ensure that your diet includes calcium-rich foods such as dairy products, almonds, broccoli, kale, canned salmon with bones, sardines, and soy products. If it is challenging to obtain enough calcium through your diet alone, consult your doctor about calcium supplements.
- Physical Activity: Leading a sedentary lifestyle puts you at a higher risk of osteoporosis compared to those who engage in regular physical activity. Weight-bearing exercises like walking, jogging, and climbing stairs, as well as resistance training, can help build strong bones and slow down bone loss.
- Tobacco and Alcohol Use: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption have negative effects on bone health. Research suggests that tobacco use contributes to weak bones, while heavy alcohol consumption can increase the risk of osteoporosis. It is advisable to quit smoking and limit alcohol intake to promote optimal bone health.
- Gender: Women are at greater risk of osteoporosis due to having less bone tissue compared to men. Hormonal changes during menopause further increase the risk of bone loss in women. However, men should also pay attention to bone health as they age.
- Body Size: Being underweight or having a small body frame may result in lower bone mass, making individuals more susceptible to bone-related issues. Maintaining a healthy weight and body composition is beneficial for overall bone health.
- Age: Bone density naturally declines as we age. The bone remodelling process slows down, resulting in thinner and weaker bones. Therefore, it is crucial to take preventive measures to counteract age-related bone loss.
- Race and Family History: Caucasians and individuals of Asian descent have a higher risk of osteoporosis. Moreover, having a family history of osteoporosis or fractures increases your vulnerability to bone-related conditions.
- Hormone Levels: Bone health is vulnerable to hormonal imbalances. Due to declining oestrogen levels, bone loss in women dramatically increases during menopause. Loss of bone mass can occur in men with low testosterone levels. Bone health is also affected by hormone levels, which can be affected by certain medical conditions and medications.
- Eating Disorders and Other Conditions: Both men and women can experience a weakening of their bone structure from extreme calorie restriction, eating disorders, and conditions like celiac disease. The body’s ability to absorb calcium normally can also be negatively impacted by weight-loss surgery.
- Medications: Some medications, like corticosteroids, can be harmful to bone health if used for an extended period of time. The risk of osteoporosis can also be raised by taking certain medications for breast cancer, depression, epilepsy, and other conditions. Talk to your doctor about the effects of any medications you take on your bone health.
Tips to Improve Bone Health
Now that we understand the factors influencing bone health, let’s explore practical steps you can take to improve and maintain strong bones in old age:
- Adequate Calcium Intake: Take calcium supplements as prescribed by your doctor if your diet is lacking in calcium-rich foods. Calcium recommendations change with age and gender. The daily Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 1,000 milligrammes (mg) for adults 19–50 and men 51–70. It is recommended that women over the age of 51 and men over the age of 71 take 1,200 mg daily.
- Sufficient Vitamin D Levels: Bone health and calcium absorption are two of vitamin D’s most important functions. Vitamin D can be produced by the body when exposed to sunlight, and it is also present in foods like oily fish, mushrooms, eggs, and fortified products like milk and cereals. Talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement if you’re worried about your levels. Vitamin D’s recommended daily allowance (RDA) lies between 600 and 800 IU, depending on age.
- Regular Exercise: Strength training and other weight-bearing activities can help you build bone mass and stop bone density from decreasing. Bone health is enhanced by a wide variety of exercises, including walking, jogging, dancing, weightlifting, and yoga. In addition to at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, it is recommended that you engage in strength training on two or more days per week.
- Quit Smoking: Smoking is detrimental to bone health and increases the risk of fractures. If you are a smoker, consider quitting or seeking professional help to overcome this habit. Your bones will thank you.
- Limit Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol intake can weaken bones and increase the risk of fractures. Women should avoid consuming more than one alcoholic drink per day, while men should limit their intake to no more than two drinks per day.
- Regular Bone Density Testing: Talk to your doctor about getting a bone density test if you’re worried about your bone health or if you have risk factors for osteoporosis. You can learn more about your bone density and bone loss rate with this examination. Your doctor can then decide if medication to slow bone loss is necessary based on these results and other factors.
- Balanced Diet: In addition to calcium-rich foods, maintain a well-rounded diet that includes a variety of nutrients necessary for overall health. Consume ample fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to support bone health.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight: Achieve and maintain a healthy weight to reduce the strain on your bones. Excessive weight can put extra stress on the skeletal system, while being underweight may lead to decreased bone density.
- Fall Prevention: Take measures to prevent falls, as they can result in fractures, especially for older adults. Ensure your living space is free from hazards, use assistive devices if necessary, and practice balance exercises to improve stability.
- Consult Your Doctor: If you have specific concerns about your bone health, consult your healthcare provider. They can provide personalized advice, recommend appropriate tests, and guide you in making informed decisions regarding your bone health.