Most of us don’t really think about our bones until one breaks. But you may want to give them a little more attention—even if you are young and active. Despite what you might think, bone health isn’t an “old person’s problem.”
“Bone health is like other aspects of our health that we need to work on for years,” said Serign Marong, MD, a Banner Health family medicine physician at Banner - University Medicine North in Tucson, AZ. “As with other chronic diseases, starting healthy habits when we are younger, in order to prevent osteoporosis, is the best form of treatment.”
For many, the first sign of osteoporosis is a broken bone. Nearly 54 million Americans have osteoporosis or are at risk for developing it. Another common bone issue is degenerative joint disease, or osteoarthritis, which can cause pain, loss of function and reduced endurance.
[To learn more about your potential risk factors for osteoporosis, check out “Osteoporosis: What Is It and What Does It Do to You?”]
1. Maintain a Healthy Weight
For many, this is easier said than done. But research has shown maintaining a healthy or slightly higher normal weight is your best bet when it comes to protecting your bone health and mobility in the long-term. This means not being too heavy or too thin.
Being underweight increases the risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis. Being obese has been shown to impair bone quality and increase the risk for fractures due to the stress of excess weight. And yo-yoing between weight loss and gain can also contribute to significant bone loss.
2. Get Moving
One of the keys to keeping your bones strong and your body mobile is through physical activity. Like muscles, bones become stronger through weight-bearing and strength-building exercises.
Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Activity can include:
- Walking, running or jogging
- Yoga and Pilates
- Weight training
- Light stretching
Tip: Trying a new exercise? Before starting any new exercise, check with your doctor or work with a physical therapist/personal trainer to evaluate what would be best for you.
3. Eat a Balanced Diet
Eating a well-balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is important to maintaining overall health as well as your bone health. Calcium and vitamin D have both been shown to strengthen bones, yet many Americans aren’t getting enough.
Aim for five servings of fruits and vegetables and at least three servings of dairy a day, such as low-fat or non-fat milk and yogurts and cheese, and about nine servings of protein per week. Limit your intake of foods that are processed or high in sugar, salt, fat or carbohydrates.
Tip: Lacking in nutrients? Before reaching for an over-the-counter supplement, check with your doctor first. They can determine if you could benefit from a supplement, the right dosage and if any supplements might negatively impact any prescription medications you may be on. They may determine some slight shifts in your diet and a little more time in the sun may do the trick.
4. Avoid Alcohol, Caffeine and Tobacco
We all have our vices, but there are few you may want to consider kicking to the curb. Those who smoke and drink a lot of alcohol and caffeine are at greater risk for osteoporosis.
- Trying to limit caffeine? Try swapping out coffee and tea and caffeinated soft drinks with decaffeinated.
- Trying to limit alcohol? For women, limit to no more than one drink a day. For men, limit to no more than two drinks a day.
- Trying to kick a cigarette habit? Find a class or program that can help you quit. You can check out Banner MD Anderson’s Tobacco Recovery Program.
5. Get a Bone Density Scan
If you are concerned about your bone health or risk factors for osteoporosis, schedule an appointment with your doctor. If they are concerned you may be at risk, they may recommend a bone density test, also known as a DEXA (DXA) bone densitometry scan.
While the scan won’t strengthen your bones, it can provide you with a baseline on how strong or dense your bones are and whether you are at greater risk for osteoporosis.
Tip: Want a DEXA scan? Medicare and many insurances will cover bone density testing but call to check ahead of time. Some insurers will cover if you meet certain conditions.