Many of us recall hearing, “drink your milk; it’s good for your bones,” when we were young. While that is true, no matter your age, we need the right balance of healthy eating with physical activity to provide our body the tools it needs to perform at our best every day. Building strong bones from a young age and carrying those healthy habits throughout life can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is when our bones become thin and fragile and can easily break. Bone tissue loss usually starts around age 40 when we can no longer replace bone tissue as quickly as we lose it. Before bones progress to osteoporosis, osteopenia can occur if we do not have the balance of a healthy diet of food and activity. Osteopenia is when our bones lack mineral density, a.k.a. strength, and you may not even know until you experience a bone fracture or break.
How do we know the strength of our bones? A bone density test is the only way to determine it before you suffer a broken bone. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends testing if you meet the following criteria.
|Recommended||Might be Recommended|
|Women aged 65 or older||X-ray of spine showing break or bone loss|
|Men aged 70 or older||Back pain with possible break in spine|
|Bone break after age 50||Height loss with ½ in or more within one year|
|Menopausal women age with risk factors||Total height loss of 1 ½ inches from your original height|
|Postmenopausal women under 65 with risk factors|
|Men aged 50-69 with risk factors|
As we balance the food we choose to eat every day, it is essential to ensure we get enough calcium, Vitamin D, protein, Vitamin K, and magnesium for bone health. Besides building and maintaining strong bones and teeth, calcium helps our bodies with blood clotting and nerve and muscle function and may reduce blood pressure. Where else can you find calcium besides in a glass of milk? Calcium is in yogurt, cheese, orange juice, and breakfast cereals fortified with calcium, tofu, and green vegetables like broccoli, greens, and kale. Add milk instead of water to your oatmeal, string cheese as part of your snack, or cereal topped with yogurt to bone up with calcium in your diet. Vitamin D helps in similar ways as calcium but also helps fight infections. We can find it in Omega-3 Fish such as trout, salmon, mackerel, organ meats, and eggs. Protein helps with bone health as it keeps muscles strong. Chicken, lean meats, tuna, yogurt, milk, nut butter, lentils, and beans are excellent protein sources. It’s important to know your protein needs before packing on the portion sizes of protein. For example, on average many only need 6 ounces of protein, and 3 ounces is equal to a deck of cards. The function of Vitamin K besides bone health is in blood clotting. You can score some in your leafy green veggies, broccoli, and vegetable oils. One we may not hear about often with bone health is magnesium. Magnesium also helps our body maintain healthy blood pressure, blood sugar regulation, and nervous system function. Make sure to include green vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, avocados, bananas, fish, and dried fruit to balance your plate and meet your need for this mineral.
Balance is key. A healthy plate plus exercise will help you take important steps in the right direction for healthy bones. The main goal is to help increase your muscle mass to improve muscle function and maintain good balance and strength. Resistance bands, standing and rising on your toes, and lifting weights are good muscle-strengthening exercises. Weight-bearing exercises that are also helpful include tennis, stair climbing, dancing, running, and aerobics. Keeping health in mind daily with varying food choices and moving more lowers your risk for bone fractures, pain, and breaks—every step you take matters in achieving a healthy body and strong bones.