New Year’s Resolutions, Part II: 10 Ways to Improve Bone Health

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Do you have osteoporosis? Is osteopenia giving you a peek into a possibly crippling future?

    If you’ve already experienced bone loss, don’t give up; it doesn’t have to be permanent. You can certainly work to stop it in its tracks; and you may be able to raise those T-scores back into an acceptable range through a combination of drugs, exercise, and diet.

    With the New Year right on your doorstep, how about making a really important resolution, one that’ll make you both healthier and happier? Choose one (or more) of the suggestions below, and vow to work at keeping it. Next year at this time, you might very well be enjoying stronger bones.

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    1) Drugs: If you’ve got ’em, take ’em. Responsibly. Amazing how many of us are prescribed drugs to address bone loss, and then “forget” to take them. Or decide not to. Or take them the wrong way, or at the wrong time.

    Osteoporosis drugs work; but only if they’re in your body, not on the counter. As they say in ice hockey, you can’t score the goal if you don’t take the shot.

    2) Make calcium work for you. Sure, we all know calcium is critical to bone health. And we try to take our minimum 1500mg a day, right? (RIGHT?)

    But are you taking calcium effectively – on the schedule and in the doses that’ll really make a difference? Find out by reading our post, Getting the Most From Your Daily Calcium.

    3) Lift weights. Don’t tell me you’re too old – advanced age is NOT an excuse. Even if all you do is pick a 16-ounce can of soup off the counter and put it back 10 times in a row, you’re helping your bones.

    Bones thrive on being challenged; lifting weights puts pressure on bones that they don’t receive from everyday activities, like walking, doing housework, even swimming. A challenging weight program (if you’re fit enough), or simply lifting light weights, is an all-around plus.

    4) Do weight-bearing exercises. And what does that mean? Well, there’s weight-lifting (above); but there’s a whole range of other activities that’ll produce the same effect: challenging your bones enough to build them up. Read more in our post on weight-bearing exercises.

    5) Vertical jumping. Before we get off the exercise treadmill, here’s something that’s simple, easy-to-remember, and can be done anywhere, anytime: 2 minutes of vertical jumping per day.

    Remember jump rope? Same thing, without the rope. Just get both feet off the ground at the same time, and you’re vertical jumping.

    If you’re fit and agile, try jumping high. If you’re less fit – and your doctor gives you the OK – jump as high as you comfortably can. (Vertical jumping is NOT useful when it results in a fracture!)

    You don’t have to do the 2 minutes all in one stretch, either; just go for 10 seconds at a time, if that’s what you can handle. But that gentle jarring, while it may be tiring and a bit uncomfortable, is helping get those bones back in shape.

    6) Hormone replacement therapy. HRT has taken a huge hit in popularity in recent years, as researchers have discovered that it raises your risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular issues. However, your health may be such that increasing bone mineral density with a cautious amount of estrogen outweighs the risk of any side effects. Ask your doctor to help you weigh benefit against risk. And if you decide to take estrogen, ask about Evista (raloxifene), a type of estrogen that comes with a lower risk of breast cancer.

  • 7) Vitamin D and bisphosphonates. If you’re taking Fosamax or Actonel, it’s critical you have enough vitamin D in your blood for these drugs to work effectively. Aside from sunlight, which encourages your body to manufacture vitamin D, you should add a MINIMUM of 400IU daily, via diet or supplement.

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    Eggs, saltwater fish, and vitamin D-fortified milk, cereal, and juice are all good sources. As are vitamin D supplements, which are often paired with calcium supplements. Caltrate 600-D (and its generic knockoffs) offers 600mg calcium paired with 400IU vitamin D, both in tablet and chewable form.

    8) If you’re very thin, try to gain a little weight. Being thin is a risk factor for osteoporosis. And having a bit more weight to carry around provides a greater “positive challenge” for your bones. So if you’re thin and frail, work towards becoming a bit more robust via increasing both (healthy) calories consumed, and exercise.

    9) Cut back (or cut out) drinking and smoking. Alcohol decreases the work of bone-building osteoblasts. And smoking decreases estrogen, which in turn decreases bone density. Smoking and drinking fight against all the healthy work you might be doing to build up your bones. Try to quit – or at least cut back.

    10) Track your bone density via regular tests and physicals. You won’t know if you’re winning the bone-density game unless you keep score. Your doctor will tell you when it’s time for a DEXA scan. In between, physicals will make sure you’re not “shrinking” too fast, or developing bad posture (both of which are possible signs of spinal compression fractures). 

    I hope you’ve found a suggestion here that resonates with you. Me, I’m going to try that vertical jumping. And next year at this time, I’m trusting my bones will be healthier – and my legs stronger and more shapely!

    Do you have friends and family without osteoporosis who could use some advice on keeping their bones healthy? Check out our New Year’s resolutions for preventing bone loss.

Published On: December 22, 2009