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Why Your Bone Health Matters Now & What To Do About It

Your bones aren’t afraid of change. They’re living and dynamic tissues comprised of collagen and calcium, and they’re constantly evolving. Your skeleton is always phasing out old bones while growing newer, strong bones—and strong bones are important for almost everything you do. Your skeleton protects your brain, heart, and lungs.1 It’s how you move, and where your body stores and regulates many types of minerals to help keep your whole body functioning.1 Your best bone-building years occur in childhood and adolescence, but the choices we make as adults will have a drastic effect on our future bone health. This is why, if we’re looking to support our bone health, we may want to embrace a little change as well.

If you’re over 25, your bone density has already peaked

When you’re young, your bones become denser as you age because new bone is being built faster than old bone can be replaced.2 By your late twenties, however, you reach “peak bone mass.”2 Your body gradually slows down its production of new bone. The old bone phases out before new bone is made, which leads to weaker, less dense bones.2 By your late twenties, your bones are about as dense and strong as they’re ever going to be. From here on out, it’s all about maintenance and providing your bones with the support they need to stay healthy as you age.

Your bones are strong because of calcium and you lose calcium every day

Calcium is one of the most important nutrients when it comes to bone health. This essential mineral is the key to building strong, dense bones when you’re young—and maintaining those strong bones as you age. But we lose calcium every day, just by being human. We lose it through our skin, nails, hair, sweat, urine, and feces.3

Your body can’t make calcium on its own

Even though the body needs calcium to function, it can’t produce this mineral on its own. It relies on the calcium found in our diets. It’s recommended women under age 50 consume 1000mg / day of calcium, and women over age 51 consume 1200mg / day of calcium.4 It’s recommended men under age 70 consume 1000mg / day of calcium as well, and men over age 71 consume 1200mg / day.4 

Calcium can be found in many foods, including:5

  • Collard greens
  • Plain, non-fat yogurt
  • Milk
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Kidney beans
  • Tofu

If you don’t get enough calcium, your body will steal it from your bones3,6

Your skeleton acts like a calcium savings account, storing up 99% of the calcium you consume. This major mineral is required for not only building and preserving bone, but all kinds of necessary systems ranging from muscle contractions to everyday nerve and heart functions.3 If you don’t consume enough calcium from your diet for these essential processes, your body will steal it from your bones, which over time may result in loss of bone structure and strength.3

Not getting enough vitamin D can make this theft even worse

Even if you consume enough calcium, your body may not absorb it all if you aren’t getting enough vitamin D. That’s because the body needs vitamin D to both absorb and use calcium.3,4,7 Vitamin D also supports muscle health, which can help prevent falls.8

It’s recommended that adults ages 19–50 should get 600 IU / day of vitamin D. All adults ages 50–70 should get 600 IU / day as well, which increases to 800 IU / day for adults ages 70 and over.9 You can get most of your vitamin D needs from fifteen minutes in the sun every few days without sunscreen.10

While sunshine is the best source of vitamin D, it can also be found in very small amounts in a few foods:9

  • Mushrooms
  • Fortified dairy
  • Fortified juices
  • Salmon
  • Tuna

Protecting your skin from the sun could also be hurting your bones

It makes sense that people who live in cloudier climates or spend a lot of time indoors might need to pay extra attention to their vitamin D intake, but what about those of us who spend plenty of time outdoors? Turns out, there are lots of factors that affect whether or not we’re getting the right amounts of vitamin D even if we spend a lot of time in the sun. Age, skin pigmentation, clothing, and even sunscreen can all inhibit how much vitamin D your body is able to synthesize from the sun.7

For example, older adults are less efficient in making vitamin D and therefore may need extra vitamin D through supplementation.7 People with darker skin pigmentation take longer to make vitamin D as well.7 Sunscreen and clothing are crucial to protecting your skin from inflammation and burns, but they also inhibit how your skin forms this vitamin in the first place. In fact, sunscreen with an SPF as low as 8 has been shown to reduce vitamin D production by 95%.8

Vitamin D and calcium are both major nutrient gaps for Americans

Despite their crucial roles in bone health, both calcium and vitamin D are marked as “nutrients of public health concern.”11 This is because most Americans aren’t consuming enough calcium or vitamin D.DGA About 40% of Americans aren’t getting enough calcium.12 As much as 95% of Americans aren’t consuming enough vitamin D.12

Magnesium matters to your bones, and it’s also missing from American diets

Magnesium is a major mineral and also a major structural component of bones. About 60% of the magnesium we consume is stored in our bones and contributes to bone density, which is what gives our bones strength.13 Almost 55% of Americans don’t consume enough magnesium required for optimal bone health.12 It’s recommended women ages 19–70 consume 310–320mg / day and that men ages 19–70 consume at least 420mg / day.14

You can find magnesium in a few foods, including:

  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Avocados
  • Almonds
  • Peanuts
  • Lima Beans
  • Chickpeas

A lack of physical activity actually causes you to stop producing new bone

We often exercise to make our muscles stronger, but physical activity makes our bones stronger too.6 Bone is living tissue, it responds to the forces put on it.6 Regular exercise causes our bones to adapt to the body’s needs by building more cells, becoming denser, and helping to preserve bone mass.7,6 When we limit our physical activity, we send signals to our body that we don’t need as much bone—and our body responds accordingly.7

Which exercises you choose can affect your bone health too

All types of exercise type help maintain good bone health, but some can specifically impact your bone density. High-impact or low-impact weight-bearing exercises are important for both building and maintaining bone density.15 If you’re looking to move more to support your bone health, you’ve got lots of options.

Try some high-impact weight-bearing exercise such as:

  • Dancing
  • Hiking
  • Jogging
  • Jump roping
  • Stair climbing
  • Tennis

Or try some of these low-impact weight-bearing exercises:

  • Elliptical training machines
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Stair-step machines
  • Fast walking outside or on a treadmill

Weight-bearing and resistance exercises are the best for your bones. But helping to preserve your precious bone mass doesn’t have to consume your free time or even make you sweat. One study showed that simply walking at least 4 hours per week was associated with a lower risk of hip fracture even among women who did no other exercise.7 Whatever you choose, find the exercise that feels fun and safe for your body. Even a little bit of movement can go a long way to supporting your bone health throughout life.

Too many happy hours could be hurting your bones

During these intense years of juggling careers, family, and friendships—it can be tempting to unwind at the end of each day with a glass of wine (or three). Most of us are already aware that drinking too much can cause long-term health problems, and this holds true for bone health as well. Heavy alcohol use is linked to reduced bone mass and increased fracture risk.7 Data shows that regularly consuming 2–3 ounces of alcohol each day may damage the skeleton.16 Plus, being tipsy tends to make you a little tipsy as well, which can increase your risk of falling.16

Smoking isn’t just bad for your lungs

Bone health studies show smoking can reduce bone mass and increase chances of a fracture.7 This is especially true if you started smoking at a young age, which has a negative impact on peak bone mass and increases your risk of bone loss and fractures in the future.17 Women who smoke may also absorb less calcium (that critical bone health supporting nutrient we talked about earlier).16

BETTER BONE HEALTH CAN BEGIN NOW

Your bones help keep you together—literally. While your best bone-building years may already be behind you, it’s never too late to start tending to the bone health you already have. Keep an eye on your calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium intakes. Try to get out for a walk a few times a week, or better yet find some new weight-bearing exercises to explore. Your bones need you to be strong for them like they’re strong for you.

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This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.

References

  1. Cleveland Clinic. “13 Strange and Interesting Facts About Your Bones.” 2015. Accessed on: May 27, 2020. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/13-strange-interesting-facts-bones-infographic/
  2. National Institutes of Health. “Osteoporosis Overview.” Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. 2018. Accessed on: May 26, 2020. https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/overview
  3. National Osteoporosis Foundation. “Calcium and Vitamin D are Essential for Bone Health.” Accessed on: May 26, 2020. https://cdn.nof.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Calcium-and-Vitamin-D-are-Essential-for-Bone-Health.pdf
  4. National Osteoporosis Foundation. “What Women Need to Know.” Accessed on: May 26, 2020. https://www.nof.org/preventing-fractures/general-facts/what-women-need-to-know/
  5. Oregon State University. “Calcium.” Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center. Accessed on: May 26, 2020. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/calcium#food-sources
  6. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. “Healthy Bones at Every Age.” 2012. OrthoInfo. Accessed on: May 26, 2020. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/healthy-bones-at-every-age/
  7. Office of the Surgeon General (US). Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: Office of the Surgeon General, 2004. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK45503/
  8. National Osteoporosis Foundation. “Calcium and Vitamin D.” 2018. Accessed on: May 26, 2020. https://www.nof.org/patients/treatment/calciumvitamin-d/
  9. Holick, M. et al. Evaluation, Treatment, and Prevention of Vitamin D Deficiency: an Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2011; 96 (7): 1911–1930. https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/96/7/1911/2833671
  1. Harvard Health Publishing. “Time for more vitamin D.” 2008. Harvard Medical School. Accessed on: May 26, 2020. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/time-for-more-vitamin-d
  2. Department of Health and Human Services. “2015­–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” 2015. 8thS. Department of Agriculture. Accessed on: May 13, 2020. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/
  3. Blumberg, J.B., et al. Impact of Frequency of Multi-Vitamin/Multi-Mineral Supplement Intake on Nutritional Adequacy and Nutrient Deficiencies in U.S. Adults. Nutrients. 2017; 9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28792457
  4. Castiglioni S, et al. Magnesium and osteoporosis: current state of knowledge and future research directions. Nutrients. 2013; 5(8): 3022‐3033. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3775240/
  5. Institute of Medicine (IOM). Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D and Fluoride. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1997.
  6. National Osteoporosis Foundation. “Exercise/Safe Movement.” Accessed on: May 13, 2020. https://www.nof.org/patients/treatment/exercisesafe-movement/
  7. National Institutes of Health. “Osteoporosis Overview.” 2018. Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. Accessed on: May 13, 2020. https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/overview
  8. National Institutes of Health. “Osteoporosis: Peak Bone Mass in Women.” 2018. Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. Accessed on: May 26, 2020. https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/bone-mass#fyi