When you think about your health and fitness, do you ever wonder what kind impact strong bones can have on your quality of life? When considering bone health, it is important to understand what they do and how to keep them functioning optimally because strong bones are vital for living an active and healthy life at any age.
For one, bones provide a structural framework for your body. The tendons from muscles are attached to the skeleton, giving support to soft tissue and allowing us to be mobile. They also act as armour to help protect our precious internal organs, such as the heart and lungs.
Less visible functions that bones have on our body include storing minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus, and producing red and white blood cells and platelets that carry oxygen to our tissues and remove carbon dioxide.
Despite the many life-sustaining roles bones play, few people take the time to understand how bones develop and age, what causes them to weaken, and what steps can be taken to keep them strong and healthy.
Bones, like any other living tissue, are constantly breaking down and rebuilding themselves. Throughout childhood and adolescence, our bones are exploding with rapid growth. Up to 90 per cent of peak-bone mass is acquired by the age of 16 to 20 in females and 20 to 25 in males. Bones continue to grow until around age 30, at which point they reach their maximum strength and density. Unfortunately for women, there is rapid bone loss during the post-menopausal years. This loss can lead to osteoporosis; a condition that causes bones to become thin, porous, and weak, leading to increased risk of fractures. Beyond the age of 50, bones continue to weaken for both and men and women. However, we can take comfort in knowing that there are factors within our control that can reduce the risk of brittle bones and osteoporosis. Paying a little more attention to diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices can keep your bones strong and healthy at any age.
Calcium is a vital building block of our bones. The daily recommended intake for adults is 1,000 to 1,300 mg, most of which can be consumed from a variety of foods. Excellent sources of calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, green vegetables, dried fruits, tofu, and sardines.
Even with a calcium-rich diet, your body can only absorb it with the help of vitamin D, making it a key player in keeping bones strong and healthy. Although our skin makes vitamin D when exposed to the sun, most people probably aren’t getting enough during the winter months. The daily recommended intake of vitamin D is 200 IU; a dosage that increases as we age and lose bone density. In fact, we require double the amount over the age of 50 and triple the amount over the age of 65. Vitamin D sources from food are limited, but can found in egg yolks and canned fish such as tuna, salmon, and sardines. There are, however, some foods that are actually fortified with both calcium and vitamin D, such as dairy products, orange juice, and some cereals.
If you still can’t seem to meet your daily requirements through the foods you eat, supplementation is another option. Be sure to choose vitamin D3 and calcium citrate since they are better absorbed and utilized by the body compared to vitamin D2 and other forms of calcium, such as calcium carbonate. Finally, don’t exceed the recommended daily amount — it may lead to toxicity and health complications.
Just as it does for our muscles, exercising helps strengthen and improve overall bone health. Bone is a living tissue that adapts when put under stress, and, as a result, they build more cells and become denser.
The following two types of exercises are important for building and maintaining bone density.
Weight-bearing exercises: These exercises include activities that make you move against gravity while staying upright. They can be both high-impact or low-impact. Examples of high-impact weight-bearing exercises include hiking, running, jumping rope, soccer, and tennis. Low-impact weight-bearing exercises are a safer alternative and include elliptical and stair-climbing machines, dancing, and brisk walking.
Muscle-strengthening exercises. These exercises involve moving your body, a weight, or some other resistance tool against gravity — hence why it’s also known as resistance training. This could include lifting weights, using elastic exercise bands or machines, or lifting your own body weight, like you would with push-ups or pull-ups.
Controllable lifestyle choices can have a major impact on your bone health and reduce the risk of fractures by up to 50 per cent. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol are associated with reduced bone mass and weaker bones overall. More than two alcoholic drinks per day may impair the body’s ability to absorb calcium and increase the risk of fracture. So if you want to preserve bone mass, don’t smoke and keep alcohol consumption to a minimum.
Bone health is like a long-term investment, similar to the ones you make throughout life toward your retirement. The small deposits that you make and the care you put in over the years will benefit you later in life. Proper diet, exercise, and the lifestyle choices you make could help maintain your bone health and increase your quality of life.
Grant Reid is a fitness coach and the founder of a fitness-coaching company called Team G-Fit.