10 Ways to Improve Bone Health
Most of us don't give much thought to our bones -- until we break one. But according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, half of all women over the age of 50 will break a bone, and the risk is even higher for women who are diagnosed with osteoporosis. A broken bone can be a serious health problem when you're older. That's why protecting your bones and keeping osteoporosis at bay is crucial. Here are 10 proven ways to keep your bones strong and healthy.
Get enough calcium.
Dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are among the best sources of calcium. An 8-ounce glass of milk contains 314 mg of calcium -- almost a third of what's recommended for women under 50, and a fourth of what women over 50 need. Bear in mind that your body can absorb only 500 to 600 mg of calcium at a time, so try to get it from your food throughout the day. If you avoid dairy, consider calcium-fortified cereals, orange juice, soy milk, and breads. If you don't get enough calcium from food, talk to your doctor about supplements. Your doctor can help you decide how much calcium supplementation you need, and how to reduce your risk of potential side effects, such as kidney stones.
Load up on fruits and vegetables.
A colorful diet rich in produce has been linked to better bone health, although experts aren't exactly sure why. Fruits and veggies are rich in vitamin K, magnesium, and potassium -- nutrients that play important roles in bone health. Simply eating a well-balanced diet -- and following the MyPlate.gov recommendations -- is often enough to ensure you get these nutrients, says Connie Weaver, PhD, who chairs the nutrition science department at Purdue University. "Aim to fill half your plate with fruits and veggies," she adds.
Make plums and berries a part of your diet.
Many experts believe that osteoporosis is an inflammatory condition, which means foods that counteract inflammation may help reduce your risk for osteoporosis. Recent research appears to confirm this belief. "Animal studies are showing that berries and plums, which are both rich in antioxidants, help build bone, prevent bone loss, and improve the microarchitecture of bone," Weaver says. Even plums and berries that are dried may benefit bone health. A study at Florida State University found that postmenopausal women who ate 10 dried plums a day had higher bone density than those who consumed dried apples.
Limit your intake of sodium and alcohol.
Too much sodium (dietary salt) can cause you to excrete excessive amounts of calcium in your urine, depriving your bones of this important nutrient. For better bone health, it's also important to avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can inhibit bone formation. To lower your sodium consumption, limit canned, processed, and fast foods. If you choose to drink alcohol, drink in moderation. For women, moderate drinking is no more than 1 drink per day, equal to 12 fluid ounces of beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
Soak up some sunshine.
Time in the sun helps your skin make vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for the absorption of calcium and for good bone health. Unfortunately, most people don't get enough. "Many use sunscreen, so while you're saving your skin, you're also blocking your ability to make vitamin D," Schneider says. Adults under the age of 70 need 600 IUs of vitamin D, while those over 70 require 800 IUs, according to the Institute of Medicine. You can get some from vitamin D-fortified milk, egg yolks, and fatty fish such as wild salmon, but the amount in food is limited. To find out if you're vitamin-D deficient, ask your doctor for a blood test.
Do bone-strengthening exercises.
Your daily swim and bike ride may be good for your heart, lungs, and weight, but these exercises won't do much for your bones. It's important to do weight-bearing exercises -- activities that use what Schneider calls "mechanical strain," which forces your body to work against gravity. Good options are those that involve running and jumping, such as racquet sports, jumping rope, and volleyball. Lower impact exercises, like walking and some yoga poses, can also boost bone health, while being gentler on joints. Schneider also suggests balance and core-strengthening exercises to improve stability and coordination, which can help prevent falls and lower your risk of a serious fracture.
Build muscle strength.
A recent study at Mayo Clinic that looked at bone health in 272 women and 317 men, ages 20 to 97, found that muscle mass is associated with bone strength at different locations of the body. In women, muscle mass was strongly linked to bone strength at the hip, lumbar spine, and tibia bone in the shin, as well as the trabecular bone in the forearms. To maintain muscle strength, try lifting weights or doing lunges and sit-to-stand exercises two to four times a week, says Nathan K. LeBrasseur, the lead author of the study and an associate professor in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation.
If you smoke cigarettes, quit.
Smoking cigarettes hurts nearly every organ in your body, so it's no surprise that it can impact your bone health, too. In short, smoking speeds up the breakdown of your bone tissue, causing faster bone loss and weaker bones. According to Schneider, female smokers also tend to have lower levels of estrogen, the hormone that helps keep bones strong.
Know if your meds impact bone health.
While medications may improve other health conditions, some drugs can weaken your bones and raise your risk for osteoporosis. Drugs that may cause bone loss include steroids, such as prednisone, which are used to treat asthma, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis; selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which treat depression; and proton pump inhibitors, prescribed to relieve heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Ask your doctor if any of your medications can cause bone loss, and discuss taking the lowest dose possible for the shortest amount of time.
Consider an osteoporosis medication.
There are drugs that can help maintain or improve your bone strength. Osteoporosis treatments do have side effects, ranging from uncomfortable (an upset stomach) to serious (increased risk of stroke). Still, for a woman in danger of a hip or spine fracture, or a woman with other risk factors, the benefits may outweigh the drawbacks, Weaver says. Treatments commonly used include bisphosphonates, teriparatide, raloxifene, and hormone therapy. Ask your physician if osteoporosis meds are right for you.