Bones provide the framework for our bodies and play a key role in maintaining overall health and mobility throughout our lives. The majority of bone growth occurs during the childhood and teen years, but maintaining bone density becomes essential as we get older.
To maintain bone strength:
- Be physically active. Engage in weight-bearing activities such as walking, jogging, weight lifting or playing basketball or tennis.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking tobacco damages bones and prevents bone development.
- Get adequate calcium and vitamin D in your diet or from supplements.
- Calcium-rich foods include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, nuts and calcium-fortified products such as orange juice, cereals, soy beverages and other foods.
- Vitamin D-rich foods include tuna, mackerel, salmon, cod and fortified products such as milk and orange juice.
Maintaining adequate bone health helps prevent diseases such as osteomalacia and osteoporosis. Osteomalacia occurs when bones become soft. Osteoporosis happens when bone tissue deteriorates and bone mass is lost. Both diseases lead to an increased risk of fractures, often in the hip, spine and wrist.
Osteoporosis can affect men and women of all ages and ethnicities, but major risk factors for developing this disease include insufficient calcium and vitamin D intake from diet or supplements and/or being:
- Older in age
- Small in body size
- A smoker
- A person with a history of eating disorders
- A person with diabetes
To keep bones strong, the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that adults under the age of 50 get at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 400 to 800 International Units (I.U.) of vitamin D a day. Adults over age 50 need 1,200 milligrams and 800 to 1,000 I.U. per day. For many people, this amount is hard to get from the typical diet so, calcium and vitamin D supplements are needed.
One of the best ways to assess bone health is to conduct a bone density test, also known as a DEXA scan. This scan uses X-rays to measure the content of calcium and other minerals present in your bones. Generally, the greater the mineral content, the stronger your bones are, and the less likely you are to suffer a fracture. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends routine bone density screening for women who are 65 or older or for people who are over 60 and have an increased risk of osteoporosis. Your doctor may recommend earlier screening if you have multiple risk factors.