Bones are living tissues which means that throughout your life, your body breaks down old bone and makes new bone. As you age, it takes longer and longer for your body to make new bones, hence bone density loss and osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease that causes the bones to become weak and brittle and increases the risk of a fracture. It often develops over time, and it may not cause noticeable symptoms until you break a bone.
Some factors, such as exercise and diet, can also impact your bone mass over time so it’s important to take steps to keep your bones strong and healthy as you age.
Here are five simple but effective ways to protect your bone health as you get older.
1. Maintain routine screenings
As you get older, your provider will start to screen you for osteoporosis with bone density tests. In general, women and individuals assigned female at birth should be screened starting at age 65 because they’re at higher risk, while men and individuals assigned male at birth should start getting bone density tests at age 70. A few other risk factors may warrant earlier testing though, so it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you:
- Take steroid medications such as prednisone
- Have a medical condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes, which are risk factors for osteoporosis
- Have had early menopause
- Break a bone at age 50 or older
If your bone density test, also known as a DEXA scan, is normal, then you can wait up to ten years before getting another one, depending on your individual risk factors. People diagnosed with low bone density (osteopenia) should have another screening within two to five years depending on severity, while those with osteoporosis should return for another test in two years.
If you’re diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia, your healthcare provider may recommend medication, lifestyle changes, or both. But keep in mind it’s generally easier to treat bone loss when it’s identified early, so do your best to stay on top of your routine medical visits.
2. Consume more calcium
You probably know that calcium is important for developing bones, but it’s just as crucial in preventing bone loss later on in life. The recommended dietary allowance is 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day for adults ages 19-50 and men and individuals assigned male at birth ages 51-70. Women and individuals assigned female at birth 51 and older and men 71 and older, who are at a higher risk of osteoporosis, should aim for 1,200 milligrams of calcium each day.
A cup of skim or one percent milk contains about 300 milligrams, but dairy products aren’t the only way to boost your calcium intake. Veggies like kale and broccoli, soy products such as tofu, dried figs, and calcium-fortified bread and juice can also help you reach your goal.
If you’re not able to meet your calcium needs through diet alone, your healthcare provider may recommend a calcium supplement. It’s important to consult your provider before taking any supplements though, to ensure that they’re safe, as supplements are not regulated by the FDA.
3. Increase your vitamin D intake
Vitamin D also plays an important role in your bone health, as your body can’t absorb calcium without it. If you’re deficient in vitamin D, your body will take calcium from your bones, which ultimately weakens them. A vitamin D deficiency can also stop your body from developing new bones.
It’s best to consume about 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day. Adults older than 71 should aim for 800 IU. Vitamin D-rich foods include fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna, mushrooms, beef liver, eggs, pork, and fortified milk and cereal. Getting outside in the sun can also help your body produce vitamin D. As with calcium, your provider may suggest additional supplements if your vitamin D levels are low.
4. Eat more protein
Increasing your protein intake can also keep your bones healthy and strong. Studies show insufficient protein can decrease calcium absorption and affect bone formation and breakdown rates. Healthy sources of protein include lean meats like poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, eggs, beans and legumes, and nuts.
5. Exercise regularly
Exercise is a big part of overall well-being, including your bone health. Along with building muscles and encouraging better balance, which can prevent falls and fractures, regular exercise causes your body to make more bone.
Any type of exercise is beneficial, but to encourage bone health, focus on weight-bearing exercises such as brisk walking, hiking, jogging, or climbing stairs. Resistance exercises, including weight lifting and push-ups, can also help to strengthen your bones.
If you’re new to exercise or it’s been a while since you’ve done much physical activity, chat with your primary care provider about how to start incorporating more movement safely.
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