Did you know you developed all the bone density you ever have by your early 20s? There is some evidence that you can modestly increase bone density as an adult through exercise and
nutrition, but the gains are modest. However, there are steps you can take at any age to preserve the bone density that you have and avoid bone fractures.
Why should you focus on bone health? According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, an osteoporosis-related fracture occurs every three minutes worldwide. Plus, one in three women will develop a fracture due to low bone density over a lifetime. That’s why bone health should be a priority at all ages. Theses fractures are related to the pathological loss of bone mass and carry a high risk of mortality, especially in older people. The pathological loss of bone is called osteoporosis, and that’s what we want to prevent.
The time to focus on bone health is as early as possible. If you have children, make sure they stay physically active and get the nutritional support their bones need to stay strong and healthy. It’s during childhood and adolescence that we build peak bone mass. As we move out of our 30s, bone mass declines. Let’s look at what you can do as an adult to lower your risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.
Stimulate Bone Growth Through Exercise To Improve Bone Density
Not all exercise is beneficial for building bone mass and preventing bone loss. The best is high-impact exercise, movements where both feet leave the ground at the same time. Examples are movements where you jump, like plyometrics, and running. Cycling and swimming are not effective for boosting bone density. Resistance training is effective too, but some research suggests we need to use a heavy resistance of at least 80% of one-rep max to stimulate the laydown of new bone. Also, compound exercises that involve movement around more than one joint are most effective for bone building. Walking may offer some bone-preserving benefits, especially if you walk briskly and tackle more hills.
Get Calcium Through Diet, but Not Necessarily Supplements
Calcium supplements are controversial after a large study published in the British Medical Journal found that individuals who took calcium supplements had a higher risk of a heart attack. Also, research shows calcium supplements and calcium supplements combined with vitamin D only slightly reduces total bone fractures and doesn’t prevent bone fractures. Although the link between calcium supplements and heart attack is observational, it raises red flags about taking calcium supplements, especially for people at high risk of cardiovascular disease. The safest approach is to get calcium from dietary sources. Dairy products, leafy vegetables, tofu, almonds, chia seeds, beans, lentils, sunflower seeds. Also, talk to your physician about the best approach for meeting your calcium needs.
Look to Minerals Beyond Calcium For Maintaining a Healthy Bone Density
For years we’ve heard that calcium is the bone health mineral, but calcium doesn’t act alone. Another critical mineral magnesium plays a key role in maintaining healthy bone density. In fact, research shows that lack of magnesium reduces the activity of osteoblasts, cells that build new bone. Studies also link magnesium deficiency with bone fragility.
Studies show that up to half of people don’t get enough dietary magnesium. Also, serum levels of magnesium aren’t a good indicator of tissue levels of this important mineral. Your tissues can be starving for magnesium while serum levels are normal. So, one thing you can do is add more magnesium to your diet. The best sources are green, leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, and whole grains.
Do Balance Training
Falling onto a weak bone can lead to a painful, disabling fracture. The most serious bone break is a hip fracture, a type of fracture with a high mortality rate among older people. One way to lower your risk is to improve your balance. Adding balance challenges to your workouts can improve balance capabilities and reduce the risk of falls. In fact, an analysis of 17 studies in seniors found that exercise, some of which emphasized balance skills, reduced the risk of bone fractures by 61%.
You can work on balance by doing more exercises like lunges and single-leg squats where you’re forced to balance. Doing exercises like curls and squats on an unstable surface will improve balance skills too. Studies show that the ancient art of tai chi improves balance skills too. Also, try balancing on one leg as long as you can when you’re standing in front of the sink or waiting in line. Do it several times per week and you’ll sharpen your balance skills!
Check a Vitamin D Level
A large meta-analysis in 2018 did not find evidence that supplementing with vitamin D improved bone density or reduced the risk of bone fractures. However, many people don’t get enough vitamin D in their diet and are deficient or borderline deficient. Despite a lack of evidence that more is better, you need enough vitamin D to maintain bone health. So, check your vitamin D level periodically to make sure you’re within an acceptable range. Plus, vitamin D also plays a role in immune health.
Know Your Bone Density Risk Factors
Explore your family history and see how common osteoporosis is in your bloodline. Genetics is a factor in bone health. Other risk factors for osteoporosis include:
Low BMI or small bones
History of bone fractures or loss of height
Controllable Risk Factors
Drinking too much alcohol.
History of an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa or excessive calorie restriction
Being on certain medications, including corticosteroids, some drugs used to treat breast cancer, and anti-seizure medications.
Based on your risk factors, talk to your physician about the best time to check your bone density.
The Bottom Line
Now you know some steps you can take to maintain healthy bones as you age. Take advantage of what you can control.
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· Strength and Conditioning Research. “Does Strength Training Build Stronger Bones?”
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· Harvard Health Publishing. “Balance training seems to prevent falls, injuries in seniors”
· Stanford Medicine. “Tai chi may help prevent older adults from falling, a study finds”
· AJMC.com. “Large Review Finds Vitamin D Ineffective in Preventing Fractures, Falls”
· Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol 2018;6(11):847–58. doi: 10.1016/S2213-8587(18)30265-1.