As people get older, they become increasingly conscious of the importance of healthy bones for maintaining an active life. Post-menopausal women, in particular, often start to notice signs of reduced bone density, such as height loss and increased tendency to fractures, but this can happen just as much to men too. However, without good bone health, it is difficult to enjoy a varied and active life in your later years.
The good news is that it is never too late to reverse the loss of bone strength. It is of course true that the crucial time for building strong bones is in the first 30 years of life, as during these years the formation of new bone is faster than the loss of old bone. However, this process of losing old and forming new bone continues throughout your life — it is just that as you get older the old bone loss speeds up and overtakes the new bone formation. Our bones are incredibly resilient; so at any stage of your life it is possible to help them build themselves back up, to quite a substantial degree. To help you do this, here are six of the most important factors in building bone health.
As everyone knows, the most fundamental factor in bone strength is calcium. Calcium is, of course, essential for a wide range of other bodily functions as well as bone health, but you are losing calcium constantly through sweat and excretion. If the calcium level in your tissues and blood becomes too low, your body will replenish it by taking it from your bones, so if you do not consume enough calcium to replace it, this will lead to bone loss. You absorb calcium better if you take it in small amounts during the day, rather than all at once. Calcium-rich foods include yogurt, skim milk, collard greens, black-eyed peas and canned salmon.
Vitamin D Intake
Along with this goes an adequate intake of Vitamin D. Not only is this essential for the absorption of calcium, but it is converted by the kidneys into minerals, which are concentrated in the bloodstream and are used to build up the bone. The main foods for Vitamin D are oily fish, liver and eggs, and supplements containing calcium and Vitamin D are often recommended too.
Vitamin K Intake
The other vitamin that is essential for bone health is Vitamin K — a vitamin about which not much has been known until recently. Vitamin K activates two proteins, one of which keeps calcium in the bones, while the other prevents the deposit of calcium in your artery walls. Vitamin K comes in two main forms — K1, found mainly in seaweed and green vegetables such as kale and collard greens, and K2, which can be taken in fermented soybeans and animal products, particularly goose liver paste.
Protein is also necessary for building healthy bones, but you have to be cautious, as too much protein is as harmful for bone health as too little. Too little protein reduces bone mineral density, while too much causes excessive excretion of calcium. To figure out the right amount, imagine your plate divided into quarters, with one quarter filled with protein such as meat or fish, one quarter with low GI carbohydrates, and the rest filled with vegetables.
Apart from what you eat, the other big factor in bone health is exercise. This must be weight-bearing exercise, which puts stress on the bones and helps to increase their density, and you also need to vary the types of exercise, to ensure all your bones are involved. Exercise can include walking, dancing, stair climbing, weight lifting, skipping, and aerobics.
Minimal Alcohol and Caffeine
As well as all the things you should actively be doing to improve bone health, there are also things you should avoid, because they weaken bones. One of the worst offenders is alcohol, which depletes magnesium and so interferes with the absorption of minerals. You should also keep caffeine to a minimum, as it increases the excretion of magnesium and calcium in urine. Research suggests too that high stress levels increase the production of cortisol, which leads to a reduction in bone strength, so you should try to keep stress to a minimum.
It is important to emphasize that all these strategies are complementary. None of them in isolation will have much effect on bone health, but working together they will help keep your bones strong. Strong bones go along with strong muscles, and will enable you to lead the active life you desire, well into old age.
Sarah Daren writes and blogs in the field of health. This article offers tips on bone health and wishes to encourage further study with a Radiology Bachelor Degree.