Did you know that as we age, 25 percent of patients with a broken bone (especially hip) will need long-term care? Fractures, especially of the hip in those age 60 or older, will also increase your risk of dying within 12 months of the event.
Bone strength and bone health are essential for a good, healthy life. When women go through menopause, their estrogen levels decrease, and estrogen is very essential in maintaining healthy bones. It is important to note that both men and women over the age of 50 are both at risk for developing osteopenia and osteoporosis and their subsequent negative aftereffects.
Osteoporosis is a medical condition in which the bones become brittle and fragile from loss of tissue, typically as a result of hormonal changes or deficiency of calcium or vitamin D. Osteopenia is reduced bone mass of lesser severity than osteoporosis, but it is a warning sign that osteoporosis may soon follow.
Your bones are a dynamic tissue. In fact, your bones are constantly being built up and broken down. When you’re younger, the process of building up outpaces the process of breaking down. Skeletons will grow and develop with a person usually until about age 18, when bone growth is complete. Even after that, bone increases in density for another 10-20 years.
After that, the process of bone breaking down takes precedence over storing up bone, so over time bones become thinner and weaker. Hence, the key is to store up as much bone mass as possible. No matter what age you are, there are several steps you can take to increase bone strength and bone health.
Increase bone strength
The phrase “use it, or lose it” is very important here. Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly will notice an increase in bone density and bone strength.
Depending on your age and activity level, different programs can be developed through your doctor and a certified physical trainer that will both strengthen and increase bone health for you. This includes stretching and a weight-bearing activity at least three times a week for 30 minutes. Specific programs can be designed by a physical trainer under the supervision of a doctor.
Ingest the right building blocks
Provide your body with the right building blocks to produce strong, healthy bones. This includes the bone-building materials known as calcium and vitamin D.
Vitamin D is essential for allowing your body to absorb the calcium in your diet. It doesn’t matter how much calcium you ingest — if your body doesn’t absorb it, it won’t do you any good. I recommend my patients take 1,200 mg of calcium daily and at least 2,000 IU of vitamin D. These can both be obtained through dietary supplements. Check with your doctor before taking these to make sure the values are appropriate for your situation.
When choosing calcium, I recommend choosing calcium citrate, as this is the best-absorbed form of calcium. For vitamin D, oily fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, herring or halibut will suffice. Egg yolks or foods that are fortified with vitamin D such as milk, orange juice, soy milk, and some breakfast cereals are additional sources of vitamin D.
In addition to vitamin D, there are other minerals, such as magnesium, that are important in calcium absorption. A good daily multivitamin will make sure you have these nutrients. Dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese are excellent sources of calcium. Other sources of calcium include fish (salmon and sardines) and leafy green vegetables.
The majority of your calcium is used in the formation of bones and teeth. However, calcium is important for other bodily functions. Calcium, as you can see, is a very important nutrient.
Avoid harmful activities
Last but not least, avoid activities that will interfere with your bone’s ability to repair and strengthen. Tobacco smoking and excessive alcohol intake are two activities that will definitely interfere with your body’s ability to maintain strong, healthy bones. Having a glass of wine with a meal is fine, but overindulging in alcohol is a no-no.
Remember, to maintain strong, healthy bones one must maintain an active lifestyle that involves exercise three times a week and provides your body with the essential building blocks for good bone health such as calcium and vitamin D. It is also recommended to monitor your bone strength with a bone density scan. This is usually started between ages 60-70 but may be modified by your doctor based on your personal history. Your physician will help you develop an overall bone health program for you that includes exercise and good nutrition.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the U.S. by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.