When we think of aging, a long list of health problems arises in our mind. Osteoporosis is one of the most common of these health problems. That is why it is as important to keep bones healthy as it is to maintain heart health. Yet, most of us don’t realize it or make an effort to maintain a healthy bone-mineral-density.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bones weaken and get more vulnerable to fractures. It is called a “silent disease” because you cannot feel the weakening of your bones, until a bone breaks. While all bones become weak, the bones in the hip, backbone (spine), and wrist are often most at risk. As per some studies, 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men will suffer a fracture one time or the other due to osteoporosis.
While even young people can have osteoporosis, its risk grows as you get older. This risk increases for women after menopause. A woman may lose 20% of her bone mass within the first five years after menopause. Although this bone loss may slow down later, it continues weakening the bone. The bone loss in men is slower. But by age 65 to 70, men and women lose bone at the same rate.
What happens to bones as we age?
Bone is made of living tissue. To maintain the strength of bones, your body constantly breaks down old bone tissue to replace them with new bone tissue. However, the balance between old and new bone tissues start getting disturbed around age 30. The bone mass starts decreasing. As a person ages, more bone tissues may be broken than are replaced. This bone loss may lead to Osteoporosis.
If you take a close look at the inside of bone, you will see something like a honeycomb. When a person develops osteoporosis, the spaces in this honeycomb grow larger while the bone in the honeycomb gets smaller. The outer shell of the bones also become thinner. In short, bones become weak and more prone to fractures.
How to keep bones healthy?
The first thing you need to remember is the earlier you start caring for your bones, the better it is. As you must have heard, prevention is always better than cure. If you have strong bones when young and make efforts to maintain their strength, you can keep them stronger for later.
Healthy food for healthy bones:
The first step of health care always starts with a healthy diet. The food you eat has a big impact on your bones. To keep bones healthy, eat foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D.
Calcium is one of the main building blocks of bone. If you have Calcium deficiency, it will have a direct impact on your bones. Your body cannot produce calcium. So your diet must include food items rich in this mineral.
Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese are a rich source of calcium. Other food products rich in calcium include soya beans, tofu, poppy seeds, almonds, okra, collard greens, spinach and kale, beans and lentils, some fish, like sardines, salmon, perch, and rainbow trout.
How much calcium do you need?
As per some studies, once you cross the age of 9, you need three to four servings of dairy products per day to meet your calcium needs. Moreover, women need more calcium during pregnancy and lactation. And everyone needs more calcium after age 70 to keep bones healthy.
Calcium requirement as per age and gender:
- 1-3 years old: 700 milligrams (mg)
- 4-8 years old: 1,000 mg
- 9-18 years old: 1,300 mg
- Adults 19-50: 1,000 mg
- Women 51 to 70: 1,200 mg
- Men 51 to 70: 1,000 mg
- Women and men 71 and over: 1,200 mg
While calcium is essential for strong bones, it needs the support of Vitamin D. This fat-soluble vitamin helps your body to absorb calcium. This promotes the growth and mineralization of your bones. So, if you are deficient in Vitamin D, it will also reduce your bone strength. In addition, Vitamin D also contributes to the smooth functioning of the immune, digestive, circulatory, and nervous systems.
You can get Vitamin D just by spending enough time in the Sun. A type of cholesterol resides in our skin that works as a precursor to vitamin D. When your skin is exposed to Sun’s UV-B radiation, this compound becomes vitamin D. As per some research, the Vit D produced in this way may circulate in the body for twice as long as that derived from food or supplements.
However, it is not always possible to stay out in the sun long enough. Overexposure to sunlight might even lead to skin cancer. Also, our clothing and sunscreen can hinder the process of Vitamin D production. Skin tone, age, geographical location also influence how much Vitamin D your body can produce through exposure to sunlight.
So you need to make sure your food provides you with ample vitamin D. Fatty fish and seafood is a good source of Vitamin D. Mushrooms and egg yolk are also rich in this vitamin. You can also opt for fortified food items. Or you might take Vitamin D supplements. But always consult with your doctor before starting any supplements.
How much Vitamin D do you need?
- Age 1-70: 600 IU
- Age 71 and older: 800 IU
Exercise for strong bones:
If a balanced diet is the first step to good health, exercise is the second. If you want to keep your bones strong and prevent Osteoporosis, you need to exercise.
Weight-bearing exercises such as strength training, dancing, jogging, hiking, climbing stairs, and tennis are best for maintaining bone strength. As per a study of 150 women with osteoporosis or osteopenia, regular resistance training increased the serum concentrations of CTX, an indicator of bone resorption and formation.
If you cannot do such exercises, even walking can help. Although it is not as effective as other strenuous exercises, still it is a weight-bearing exercise. When you walk, you carry your weight against gravity.
You must remember that if you already have osteoporosis, you need to be very careful to prevent bone injury. So avoid exercises or other activities that involve twisting your spine. Also, avoid bending forward from the waist. So no sit-ups, toe touches or swinging a golf club for you.
Things that can weaken your bones:
While calcium and Vitamin-D rich food, and exercise make your bones strong, there are many things that can damage your bones. Sodium, caffeine, alcohol, soft drinks, and cigarettes are harmful to bones. They interfere with the body’s ability to absorb and use the nutrients needed to make bone. So avoid drinks and cigarettes as much as possible. And moderate your intake of Sodium, caffeine, and alcohol.
Effect of medicines:
If you have some health problems, you need to be regular in your medication. However, some of these medicines might affect your skeletal health. For example, steroids prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and ulcerative colitis, may interfere with bone resorption and formation. Even some common medicines such as those for heartburn and depression can also have similar effects.
This does not mean you should stop taking all medicines. But read their labels carefully. And if you worry they might weaken your bones, consult your doctor.
Weakened bone strength is common but not a necessary part of aging. With proper care, a healthy diet, and lifestyle, you can keep your bones strong and healthy. So start taking care of your bones now, before it is too late.