Certain body functions begin to decline as we age, and your bones are no different. Most people reach peak bone mass in their 20s, and after that time, bone health and strength gradually decline. For some, this decline leads to disorders such as osteoporosis, which is most common in postmenopausal women (though it can affect men, too).
The more active you are in your youth, the greater your peak bone mass will be. The International Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that a 10 percent increase in peak bone mass in children reduces the risk of an osteoporotic fracture as an adult by as much as 50 percent.
But no matter your age, you can help keep your bones strong and healthy and prevent the onset of osteoporosis with proper nutrition and regular exercise.
Exercise for strong bones
Bones are no different than muscles in that they respond to exercise by getting stronger. Strengthening your bones with regular exercise can help slow the aging process, prevent osteoporosis and promote healthy joints.
Performing strength training exercises with weights or resistance bands two to three times a week will help build strong bones and muscles around your joints. Be sure to work each major muscle group, including arms, legs and core.
Even weight-bearing aerobic exercises (think dancing, hiking, walking and jogging) can strengthen your bones. While non-weight-bearing exercises such as swimming and biking are good for your heart, they will not work to strengthen your bones.
To strengthen your bones and joints, consider trying these exercises:
- High-impact aerobics
- Jumping rope
- Stair climbing/stair step machine
- Speed walking
- Elliptical machine
- Weight lifting
- Elastic resistance bands
- Body weight movements such as squats, lunges and pushups
- Yoga and pilates
Before beginning any exercise program, talk to your doctor to make sure it's right for you.
Nutrition for strong bones
In addition to exercise, eating right can help improve bone strength. Strong, healthy bones and joints require adequate amounts of calcium and vitamins C, D and K. Eating too much saturated fat can cause weak bones due to high levels of homocysteine, a chemical known to decrease bone mass.
If you're looking to improve bone health, make sure you're getting enough of these essential nutrients:
Calcium: Low-fat dairy products are excellent sources of calcium, and many are fortified with vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. Other non-dairy sources of calcium include: fish, like mackerel, tuna and sardines; white beans; and veggies like kale, collard greens, broccoli, spinach and cabbage.
Vitamin C: You probably know citrus fruits as a source of vitamin C, but you’ll also get this essential vitamin from red and green bell peppers, strawberries and Brussels sprouts.
Vitamin K: Dark green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale and collard greens contain vitamin K.
Vitamin D: Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, although many foods are fortified with vitamin D. Spending just 10 minutes a day in the sun (without sunscreen) will help your body produce the recommended daily dose of vitamin D.
If you aren’t getting the recommend amount of these essential vitamins and minerals from your diet, your doctor may recommend supplements.
Even if you’re already past the point of peak bone mass, it’s not too late to make diet and lifestyle changes to promote strong, healthy bones. Start taking care of your bones now so you’ll be able to continue the activities you love as you age.
Learn more about Goshen Health's proactive approach to bone health for women here.