Concerned about osteoporosis? You are not alone. To keep your bones healthy and strong, you must consider bone density. Weak and porous bones increase your risk of fractures, pain and disability. A woman starts out with less bone tissue than a man, and as you age, your bones weaken and lose density. If you're extremely thin, have a small body frame, have a parent or sibling with osteoporosis or are Asian or Caucasian, you have a greater risk of bone density loss. However, there are some relatively easy ways to maintain bone density.
Calcium is an important part of your diet and is essential to healthy bones, strong teeth and proper functioning of your heart, muscles, and nerves. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia take a toll on your bone health, and stomach surgery, weight-loss surgery and conditions such as Crohn's disease, Cushing's disease and celiac disease affects your body's ability to absorb calcium. The Institute of Medicine recommends 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day for adults ages 19 to 50 and the recommendation increases to 1,200 mg per day for women age 51 and older.
Since your body cannot make calcium, it must absorb it from foods. Your job is to provide your body with calcium-rich foods such as yogurt, low-fat milk, cheese, dark green vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, almonds, and calcium-fortified foods such as tofu, soy beverages, cereal, bread, and orange juice. Ask your health care provider about calcium supplements if you think you're not getting enough calcium in your diet.
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorus, which makes it an important nutrient for bone maintenance. Exposure to sunlight stimulates the body to produce its own vitamin D, but not everyone has the opportunity to bask in the sunshine each day. The alternative is to include in your diet foods rich in Vitamin D, such as fortified milk, egg yolks, and fatty fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines. Not all yogurt products contain vitamin D, so be sure to check the container label. If you choose to take a supplement, the Institute of Medicine recommends 600 international units of Vitamin D per day for adults ages 19 to 70.
According to Colorado State University's Department of Health and Exercise Science, studies show that both free weights and machine training at least three times each week tend to increase bone density. Both weight-bearing and strength training activities contribute to healthy bone density. Researchers found that postmenopausal women who had previously engaged in at least two sessions of resistance training per week for three years were able to maintain bone mineral density at the spine and hip, while a sedentary group had bone mineral density losses of 2 to 8 percent.
Avoid Smoking and Alcohol
Give up cigarettes. Smoking speeds bone loss, perhaps by decreasing the amount of estrogen your body makes and by decreasing the intestine's ability to absorb calcium. While there isn't a definite link between limited alcohol consumption and osteoporosis, it's a good idea to curb your alcohol consumption to two drinks per day, because more than this may affect bone formation and interfere with calcium absorption.
Bone density may be affected both positively and negatively by medications you are taking. Certain medications, including corticosteroid medications, weaken bones or reduce bone mass. A number of medications, such as bisphosphonates and raloxifene, are available to help reduce bone loss and maintain bone mass. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) can help maintain bone density, but it carries increased risk of blood clots and endometrial and breast cancer. If you have concerns about your bone density, talk with your primary health care provider regarding a plan for your specific needs.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: It's About Eating Right: Women: For Bone Health, Start Early
- Mayo Clinic: Adult Health: Bone Health: Tips to Keep Your Bones Healthy
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D
- Colorado State University: Department of Health and Exercise Science: Effects of Resistance Training on Bone Density
- Harvard University: School of Public Health: The Nutrition Source: Strength an Flexibility Training
- Cedars-Sinai: Health Conditions: Osteoporosis
- Siri Stafford/Lifesize/Getty Images