When we think about osteoporosis we don’t generally think about healthy, active children and young adults. But, those are exactly the life stages when we should be thinking about our bone health. Girls acquire 90% peak bone mass by age 18, boys by age 20.
Helping our kids invest in their bone health through diet and exercise optimizes bone mass, preparing for the hefty withdrawals they will experience in their later years. For those of us in middle age, we aren’t off the hook when it comes to bone health just because we have missed our peak development window. There is a lot we can do to promote bone health not only beginning in childhood, but continuing into our later years.
Women are more at risk than men, with women making up 80% of those with osteoporosis. In fact, one in two women over 50 will experience an osteoporosis related fracture in their lifetime, while the statistic is one in four for men (better but still not great). Women tend to have smaller thinner bones than men. And estrogen, a hormone that protects bones, decreases sharply when women reach menopause. Estimates say women lose up to 10 percent of their bone mass in the first five years after menopause, which is why the chance of developing osteoporosis increases when women reach this stage of life.
So let’s get cracking (or not!!) on things we can do to keep our bones healthy and strong for our kids—and for us!
Eating for Bone Health: Calcium, Vitamin D, and More!
You probably already know that eating enough calcium is key to building a healthy skeleton. Lesser known fact: the vast majority of adolescent girls and young women don’t achieve the recommended calcium intake. So, how do you get it?
Milk—dairy or dairy alternatives supplemented with calcium
Calcium fortified orange juice
Canned sardines or other fish with edible bones
Dark, leafy greens such as collard greens (yes, I'm from the southern US), kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts
Calcium can’t do the job alone. We need lots of other nutrients such as vitamins D, C and K, and magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. You can’t just pop a few calcium supplements and think you are good to go.
Bone health is more about a healthful eating pattern as a whole rather than a focusing on individual nutrients. Getting lots of fruits and vegetables, salmon and other types of fatty fish, good sources of vegetarian proteins, nuts and calcium-rich dairy alternatives are super ways to ensure your entire family gets everything they need for healthy, strong bones.
In fact, a Mediterranean type diet (which includes all of the above) reduces bone loss in people with osteoporosis as well as decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. I recommend it as a great eating plan not only for bone health, but as an overall healthy way of eating.
Bone Building Exercise
If you’re still looking for reasons to exercise, consider this: weight bearing and resistance exercises that force you to work against gravity are great for your bones. Think running, walking, hiking, jumping rope, Zumba, tennis, and stair climbing, or resistance exercises such as weight lifting. While swimming and cycling are great for cardiovascular health, they aren’t the best exercises to strengthen bones. If you’re a swimmer or cycler, consider mixing it up with a brisk walk a few times a week.
The Bare Bones
The good news is that osteoporosis is considered to be one of today’s most preventable diseases.
Keep in mind the following tips to make sure your bones remain in tip-top shape.
1. Eat a healthy well-balanced diet rich in calcium, vitamin D and protein
2. Eat other bone-friendly foods such as fruits and vegetables
3. Engage in regular weight bearing exercise
4. Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
5. Maintain a healthy weight—weighing less than 58kg (127 lbs) or having a BMI under 21 are risk factors for osteoporosis in older women
6. Drink fewer cola beverages
7. Talk to your healthcare provider about your particular risk factors for developing osteoporosis. Every woman should have a bone density test at age 65, but if you have risk factors such as low body weight, smoking or family history of osteoporosis, your screening should start at menopause.