Because they can’t be seen, and because the most serious damage they could suffer (osteoporosis) often occurs well into our forties, we tend to neglect the framework on which our body rests.We also don’t realize the extent of calcium or vitamin D deficiencies until we take a spill and break a bone. Healthy bones are a culmination of several factors including diet, exercise, hormonal balance, and age.
So how can we keep our bones ship-shape and avoid debilitating diseases like osteoporosis? Healthy bones don’t have to be a daunting thought, and here’s why!
The Right Food
A diet rich in calcium is the cornerstone of good bone health – after all, 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones, giving them strength. Dairy products like low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt are rated as the best sources of calcium. If you’re not a huge fan of milk, try alternative sources like broccoli, bok choy, and kale. Beans (white, soy, kidney), sardines, and salmon are also good options. Eating plums and prunes regularly increases bone mineral density especially in women. These can also help in faster bone recovery.1 With nutrition, consistency is key, so take care to eat calcium-rich food in multiple meals every day. Although calcium supplements are usually prescribed to make up for any shortfall and in cases of bone deterioration, remember that calcium is best absorbed from natural sources.
Vitamin D levels also play an important role in bone mineral density and in reducing the chances of fractures.2 According to a National Osteoporosis Society report, “Vitamin D is essential for musculoskeletal health as it promotes calcium absorption from the bowel, enables mineralisation of newly formed osteoid tissue in bone and plays an important role in muscle function.”3 A deficiency in vitamin D can lead to osteomalacia among adults and rickets among children.
Natural food sources of vitamin D are limited and include fish like mackerel, tuna, and salmon, fish liver oils, cheese, and egg yolks. Sunlight in healthy doses is our best bet. Getting enough sun even for short periods of time can help meet most of our body requirements. Dietary D supplements are also prescribed in cases of deficiency.
Exercise Them Bones!
Bones work best when they’re being put to use, but our work schedules often leave us little to no time to exercise and strengthen them. Weight gain and obesity also put unnecessary strain on our bones, making it all the more difficult for them to stay healthy.4
Bone health and exercise go hand in glove. Incorporate an exercise you enjoy into your daily routine to build and maintain bone density. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends a combination of muscle strengthening (involving light weights or resistance bands) and weight bearing (walking, jogging, dancing, hiking, tennis) exercises. Balance training and posture exercises (tai chi, yoga) can improve balance, reduce falls, and keep you firmly planted on the ground!5
Avoiding or restricting processed food, smoking, and drinking are surefire ways to improve our overall health in general, and bone health in particular.6 These adverse lifestyle factors are associated with lower bone density and calcium loss, and even interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium.7
Bone Health All Around!
Children grow up in a heartbeat and that means all-around care to help their bones along! In infants and young children where overall growth happens at accelerated rates, insufficient calcium in the diet could result in brittle bones that break easily. This is especially dangerous because children are prone to falls and spills.8 The best sources of calcium for children are milk and milk products. If your child is vegan, consider vegan milks fortified with calcium. Leafy vegetables and nuts and seeds are other alternatives.
Bone deterioration in women can be a debilitating issue especially around the onset of menopause. Due to declining estrogen levels, bones start becoming brittle and osteoporosis may set in quickly. This can be identified using a bone density test. Leading an active lifestyle, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol consumption are sound ways to prevent osteoporosis. And so is a diet rich in calcium. Women may also require supplements based on the degree of bone deterioration.
In the elderly, bone health and deterioration are serious issues due to both the higher chances of calcium deficiency and the likelihood of falls and broken bones. Bones also take much longer to heal in older adults, causing them to be bedridden for long periods and resulting in secondary health issues. An active lifestyle and balance training have a vital role here.
|↑1||Hooshmand, Shirin, and Bahram H. Arjmandi. “Viewpoint: dried plum, an emerging functional food that may effectively improve bone health.”Ageing research reviews 8, no. 2 (2009): 122-127.|
|↑2||Ahmadieh, Hala, and Asma Arabi. “Vitamins and bone health: beyond calcium and vitamin D.”Nutrition reviews 69, no. 10 (2011): 584-598.|
|↑3||Francis, R., T. Aspray, W. Fraser, N. Gittoes, K. Javaid, and H. MacDonald. “Vitamin D and bone health: a practical clinical guideline for patient management.” Bath, UK: National Osteoporosis Society (2013).|
|↑4||Office of the Surgeon General (US. “Determinants of Bone Health.” (2004).|
|↑5||Osteoporosis Exercise for Strong Bones, National Osteoporosis Foundation.|
|↑6||25 Ways to Improve Your Bone Health, National Osteoporosis Foundation.|
|↑7||Smoking is a real danger to your bone health, International Osteoporosis Foundation.|
|↑8||Flynn, Albert. “The role of dietary calcium in bone health.” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 62, no. 04 (2003): 851-858.|