Among all the other resolutions you might be making today, how about one that’s critical to your health and well-being? Preserving your bone strength should be one of your resolutions this year to help extend your mobility. Here are five important things to consider as you begin the new year.
Diet, exercise, calcium, magnesium, bisphosphonates, vitamin D… It’s not easy fighting bone loss, is it? As we grow older, our bones grow weaker; after age 30, that’s a simple fact of life. But thankfully for many of us, bone loss can be managed – its rate slowed so that even as we enter our 8th or 9th decade, we can stand tall and strong. As the new year dawns, here are some things to keep in mind.
Be aware of your personal osteoporosis risk, starting in middle age.
Are you at increased risk for osteoporosis? Yes, if you’re a post-menopausal woman. And especially if you have a family history of osteoporosis; and/or if you have a delicate rather than sturdy physique: small and thin, or light-boned.
The more of these risk factors you possess, the sooner you should think about getting a baseline bone density test: a DEXA scan. While women with no risk factors other than age and menopausal status should be scanned starting at age 65, those with additional risk factors should speak to their doctor about earlier screening.
Make sure you’re getting sufficient calcium and vitamin D
Both calcium and vitamin D are critical in maintaining bone health: calcium because it helps bones rebuild themselves, and vitamin D because it facilitates calcium’s work.
How much calcium should you get each day? Starting at age 51, the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for both men and women is between 1000mg and 2000mg. Supplements are one way to make sure you’re getting enough calcium every day, but it’s also fairly simple to reach your calcium goal via diet: check out our post, 10 Easy Ways to Add Calcium to Your Diet.
And what’s the current RDA for vitamin D? For normal adults, without increased osteoporosis risk, it’s 600IU before age 70, and 800IU at age 70 and older. If you test low for vitamin D, as many Americans do, your doctor may recommend you take up to 2000IU daily, to bring your level up to within normal limits.
Surprisingly, while sufficient vitamin D levels do correlate with stronger bones, recent studies have shown no reduction in fractures among those with higher vitamin D levels compared to those with lower levels. So while you can’t rely on vitamin D to keep you safe if you fall, it’s still a key component in your overall health.
Pursue physical activity that stresses bones in a controlled manner
Your bones are constantly breaking down, and then rebuilding themselves; this is normal and natural. The challenge is, after age 30 the process starts to move more towards breakdown than building up, and the result is weaker bones.
What can you do to help keep the process in balance? Follow an exercise program that includes weight-bearing exercises: weight lifting, and physical activity that “jars” your bones in a controlled manner (think jogging, vigorous walking, tennis, and other active games). While you certainly don’t want to injure yourself, you do want to put enough pressure on your bones to cause the rebuilding response to kick in. And that means deliberately breaking them down – just a little.
Make any needed lifestyle changes
Are you a smoker? Want to cut your osteoporosis risk significantly? Stop smoking. End of story.
And how about drinking? That’s a bit more complicated. A study detailed in the April 2009 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that men who drink moderately, downing two servings of beer a day, show increased bone density of 3% to 4% compared to non-drinkers. And post-menopausal women who drink moderately (a daily glass of wine) show an increase in bone mineral density (BMD) of 5% to 8% over non-drinkers. (Hamel, 2009)
More alcohol than that, though, reduces bone density, and increases osteoporosis risk. So if you enjoy beer (for men) or wine (for women), and you don’t have any other health issues that would preclude you from a daily drink (or two, for men), enjoy! But do so responsibly.
If necessary, take drugs
Bisphosphonates are a class of drugs that have proved effective in slowing bone loss. They’re not pleasant to take, but if you’ve done all you can to maintain bone strength, and it’s not enough, you may find you need to take Boniva, Fosamax, Actonel, or another bisphosphonate.
If that’s the case, don’t kick yourself; sometimes, despite your best efforts, the deck is simply stacked against you. Ask your doctor which drug might be right for you; and if you try one that doesn’t work, try another.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle; exercise; make sure you’re reaching your calcium and vitamin D goals, and use drugs, if necessary, to supplement all the other good work you’re doing. Keeping your bones strong isn’t easy – but it’s so worth it, especially as you move into old age. Studies show that people who remain mobile are healthier and live longer than those who give in to a sedentary lifestyle. And strong bones will help you keep moving.
"Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D." Institute of Medicine. 1 Nov. 2010. Web. 28 Dec. 2014. <http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Report Files/2010/Dietary-Reference-Intakes-for-Calcium-and-Vitamin-D/Vitamin D and Calcium 2010 Report Brief.pdf>.
Hamel, PJ. "Is A Daily Glass Of Wine Good For You? Maybe." - Osteoporosis. 8 Apr. 2009. Web. 28 Dec. 2014. <http://www.healthcentral.com/osteoporosis/c/53591/66390/daily-glass>.
"Vitamin D." — Health Professional Fact Sheet. 10 Nov. 2014. Web. 28 Dec. 2014. <http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/>.
Published On: December 31, 2014