There's an ongoing struggle within your body for bone health. It's important to know the forces that can help you keep your bones strong -- and what can weaken them.
Your bones are the main storage site of your body's calcium. If your bones' stock of calcium is not replenished or reinforced through your diet, the bones weaken, leading to diseases such as osteoporosis.
Don't think that you're helpless to prevent the weakening of your bones as you age: Your everyday decisions can help determine the outcome. Let's start by exploring some of the main forces that attack your bone health.
Smoking is one of the worst enemies to your bones -- and your body in general. Studies show a direct relationship between smoking and a decrease in bone density, although it's not know whether smoking actually causes bone loss or those who smoke are more susceptible to bone loss due to other common risk factors that are more prevalent in smokers. For example, smokers are more likely to drink and less likely to exercise.
Menopause reduces a woman's production of estrogen, accelerating the loss of bone density. Some women undergo estrogen therapy or hormone therapy (estrogen and progesterone) to combat this process, but the treatments may carry some bad side effects, such as increased risk of blood clots and strokes. It's best to consult with your doctor and try other anti-osteoporosis medications first.
There are a number of drugs that can affect the health of your bones. Again, you'll want to consult your physician when weighing the risk and reward of taking certain medicines, but here's a short list of medications that may cause bone loss:
- Steroid medicines such as cortisone, particularly if used for an extended period of time
- Heartburn drugs used to treat ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Thyroid-hormone replacement medication (if used excessively)
Now that we've discussed a few of the main threats to your bone health, here are two powerful allies that will help you build and maintain bone health throughout your life: weight-bearing exercise and nutrition.
To build, strengthen, and maintain your bone strength, make exercise a part of your life. Through exercise, muscles grow and strengthen, stressing the bone and triggering an increase in calcium content. Bone-building exercises include hiking, dancing, aerobics, and taking the stairs. Resistance exercises with weight machines or free weights are also bone builders.
The need for exercise starts at a young age. Children and adolescents are urged to spend 40 minutes a day on physical activity, whether that's simply walking, running, skipping, or dancing. The benefits? According to medical research, active young girls gain 40 percent more bone mass than the least active girls of the same age. One researcher noted that 90 percent of adult bone mass is in place by the end of adolescence -- and it has to last a lifetime! In girls, bone tissue built between the ages 11 and 13 can offset the bone loss expected during the 30 years following menopause.
Calcium is critical for healthy bones. If your body doesn't get enough calcium through your diet, it takes it directly from your bones, so it's important to get healthy doses of foods that deliver calcium, include leafy green vegetables (broccoli or kale), cheese, yogurt, and milk.
Vitamin D is also important to healthy bones because it promotes the body's absorption of calcium, supporting bone building. The best sources of vitamin D include fatty fish (salmon and tuna), cheese, and egg yolks. You can also find many foods that are vitamin D-enriched, including milk, cereals, and orange juice.
Your fight to build and maintain strong bones starts in childhood and continues through adolescence into maturity. No matter your age, you can take charge by leading an active life with a healthy diet and regular doses of physical activity. By getting more of what helps your bones stay strong -- and avoiding those culprits that weaken your bones -- you'll maintain strong bone health throughout life.