Don’t Take Your Bones For Granted
I have to admit, I’ve taken the bones in my body for granted. Yes, I know that they support me and allow me to move about my day with ease and agility. And I’m grateful that I’ve never experienced a bone fracture in my lifetime. But honestly, I just never spent much time considering the concept of strengthening and protecting your bones at any age. At least not until about 15 years ago when I had my first bone density screening. Imagine my surprise at hearing that I’d suffered a significant amount of bone loss. Who knew? And all this time I thought the measuring stick at the doctor’s office must be wrong. I seemed to have suddenly gotten an inch shorter!
As I began to worry about such things as increased risk for serious fractures and the possibility of having to be on medication, I decided it was time to get serious. I had to find out what I could do to counteract further deterioration. I hope to share with you some of the things that I have found helpful on this journey to better bone health.
Get a Bone Density Scan Before Loss Begins
Somewhere, probably in a women’s magazine, I read that decreased estrogen during and after menopause affects bone density. That’s probably a major reason why physicians often recommend that we get our bones checked around this time of our life. I had my first scan done at around age 55 for a point of reference. The results showed that my bones were already weaker than they should be. Subsequent scans demonstrated further loss. My family doctor finally declared that I had osteopenia, the dreaded precursor to osteoporosis! My heart sank.
Now if I could go back in time, knowing what I do now about the importance of strengthening and protecting your bones at any age, I would definitely begin taking action earlier. The latest medical information tells us that a woman’s bones are at their strongest around ages 25-30. Why, then, do physicians rarely schedule us for a baseline bone density scan at this time? The truth is, most doctors don’t even mention it until we are approaching menopause, usually sometime in our 50s. Sadly, as in my own situation, bone loss will probably have already begun by that time. But if you get a baseline view of your bones at their strongest, you and your physician will be better able to compare subsequent scans to determine changes taking place. So what I’m suggesting is: don’t wait! Get a bone density scan done early!
Understand the Risk Factors for Low Bone Density
Yes, there are some genetic traits that help predispose you for osteoporosis. And there are a number of lifestyle choices that are now known to increase your odds for bone loss. It’s important to take a look at these, because there are many things you can also do to boost your chances of having stronger bones throughout the aging process. But before we begin that discussion, here are the most common risk factors to consider:
How Biology Plays a Role in Strengthening and Protecting Your Bones at Any Age
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), having a family history of osteoporosis makes you more at risk of developing it. Especially if your mother and her side of the family suffered from bone fractures. Interestingly enough, however, even though you may be at greater risk for this condition, your physician may not recommend a bone density scan until age 50. This is where you can become more proactive, and I urge you to do so. You are your own best advocate for better health after all.
Since your bone mass is at its height at around 30 years of age, naturally it begins decreasing as you get older. This is especially true in relation to menopause, as previously mentioned. And even though osteopenia and osteoporosis can affect anyone, it affects individuals born female the most. Estrogen loss at menopause, smaller bones in general, and hysterectomies all increase the odds for lower bone density.
Lifestyle is Important, Too!
Even though you can’t do much to change your biological risk factors, your lifestyle is key in strengthening and protecting your bones at any age. I have found through extensive research that a combination of weight-bearing exercise, healthy diet, and avoidance of tobacco and certain other substances can help prevent future bone loss — and may even work to reverse existing low bone mass. If you are sedentary, live on junk food, smoke, drink sodas, and indulge in lots of coffee — you aren’t doing your bones any favor!
Putting a Plan in Action to Strengthen and Protect Your Bones at Any Age
But — here’s the good news you’ve been waiting for. You can take action now to strengthen and protect your bones to decrease your chances of osteopenia and osteoporosis! With a plan in place, you’ll have a head start on better bone health for life. Here are a few measures that I’ve taken over the last few years, some or all of which you might also incorporate in your daily life:
- Strength training and weight-bearing exercise at least 3 times a week. This can include using hand weights, walking, biking, and dancing for starters. When I began my own journey toward improving bone mass, I enrolled in a class designed specifically for that. Check your local listings for programs that target bone health at any age. While you needn’t join a class to get results, I found that I needed the social connections it provided as motivation to continue with my plan.
- More awareness of diet, focusing on better nutrition overall, and taking a look at supplementation. For years, my physician recommended that I take calcium supplements. While calcium is an important component in better bone health, I discovered that it’s best to get this mineral through a good diet, instead of downing calcium tablets. Leafy greens, broccoli, almonds, chia seeds, and other foods offer a delicious means of getting the calcium you need. Did you know that one serving of kale provides almost half of your daily calcium requirement? One of the problems with taking supplements seems to be that you never know where the calcium is really going. It could go to your arteries, which could lead to hardening of those arteries! It’s now common knowledge that Vitamin D plays an even greater role in protecting your bones than calcium alone. Supplementation is a good idea here since we spend so much time indoors. Even when we are outdoors, our sunscreen blocks much of the natural Vitamin D we would normally receive from the sun’s rays. It’s always a good idea to have your Vitamin D level checked to ensure that you’re getting an adequate amount.
- Reducing processed food and eating more nutrient-dense meals. I have learned to enjoy growing vegetables in my garden, and I love to try new recipes. Cooking food at home instead of eating out (particularly at fast food joints) doesn’t have to be complicated or intimidating, and you always know exactly what you’re eating! Do some research and discover which foods contain the most nutrition per ounce. Make sure that you “eat the rainbow”, choosing a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables for your meals.
- No smoking. Enough said.
- Avoiding sodas and restricting caffeine. Carbonated drinks, especially colas, are destructive to your bones. Since I’m not a soda drinker, this one wasn’t too difficult for me. I do, however, love a good cup of coffee. I just try to keep my consumption to one 16 ounce cup per day. I don’t want to completely quick drinking coffee because I enjoy the taste — and coffee is loaded with antioxidants!
You might be wondering how all these things have been working out for me. I’m happy to say that I’ve improved the bone density in my spine, and am hoping for better results in other areas of my body. I’m still working on it. If you are like I was and are paying little attention to your bones, now is your chance to make a difference for your future health. You won’t regret it, and your lovely bones will thank you!