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Bone Health: 7 Strategies to Keep Them Strong & Working for You

Bone Health:  7 Strategies to Keep Them Strong & Working for You

Bone health is one of those things that people don’t think about much until they end up with a problem.  Like the picture below shows, we don’t really want to hear, see, or talk about bone health on a daily basis.  Yet, if we choose to ignore it, one day there may be a high price to pay for our neglect. I have known many people that while performing normal everyday activities broke a bone (myself included).  So, instead of ignoring our bones, let’s look at 7 strategies that can help us keep them strong and doing what they were intended to do!

bonePaulbr75/ Pixabay.com

1. Reduce Carbonated Beverage Drinking

While a soda pop once in a while is not likely to cause your bones to break, a regular daily habit of it might.  Drinking an excessive amount of carbonated beverages is a problem for two reasons.  The first reason is that when you choose carbonated drinks, you’re not choosing calcium rich beverages that are known to increase bone strength.  It’s sort of like choosing dessert but skipping dinner. You can fill up on things that are not super nutritious and miss the most beneficial things.

The second reason that carbonated beverages can cause trouble for your bones is that sodas are high in phosphoric acid.  The body does need phosphorus to function properly.  But when we drink too much of it, our calcium/ phosphorus balance gets off kilter.  When you have too much phosphorus in your blood, your body will start to pull calcium out of the bone to equal things out. The result is bones that don’t have enough calcium and that are a setup for a fracture.

2. Decrease Caffeine Intake

Caffeine can present another problem for your bones.  It can prevent the calcium you eat and drink from getting into the bones in the first place.  Almost like the bully that steals lunch money, caffeine gets in the way of calcium doing what it needs to do.  Caffeine is not all bad; it has many beneficial effects on the body too.  So, the key here is moderation.

According to the Mayo Clinic, about 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day is safe for most adults.  There is approximately 100 mg of caffeine in one brewed cup of coffee, so it is wise to limit your coffee intake for 4 cups/day.  Do your homework and calculate how much caffeine you are taking in per day.  If you’re taking in too much, start slowly decreasing this amount and you’ll be doing yourself and your bones a favor!

3. Decrease Alcohol Use and Smoking

We’re seeing a familiar theme here in that both excessive alcohol and nicotine block calcium from properly getting into the bones.  Almost like a road-closed sign, calcium may be waiting at the door but can’t get in.  Additionally, these two substances increase two potentially bone-damaging hormones, cortisol, and parathyroid hormone.  These hormones actually pull calcium out of the bones.  So, the combination of not allowing calcium in and pulling calcium out of our bones sets us up for fractures and broken bones with even minor injuries.

With nicotine, the damage doesn’t stop there.  Nicotine is filled with free radicals that will damage cells.  A type of cells called osteoblasts help build new bone cells when needed.  Unfortunately, nicotine destroys osteoblasts, reducing the ability of the body to regenerate bone cells.

4. Consume Recommended Daily Allowance of Calcium

When did you first hear that you have to drink your milk?  For most of us, it was so long ago that we couldn’t remember exactly when we heard these familiar words.  While milk is not the only source of calcium, it is a good option for many people.  Other sources include dark leafy greens, cheese, yogurt, broccoli, almonds, and many enriched foods.

Getting enough calcium is not a one size fits all approach.  At certain times in life, our bodies need more calcium than others.  The Mayo Clinic provided a good reference that I have included below that you can use as a guide for how much calcium you should be getting each day.  When given a choice, it’s better to get calcium from your food.  But if you’re finding you just can’t get enough that way, supplements are also an option.

Calcium: Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults
Men Daily RDA Daily upper limit
19-50 years 1,000 mg 2,500 mg
51-70 years 1,000 mg 2,000 mg
71 and older 1,200 mg 2,000 mg
Women Daily RDA Daily upper limit
19-50 years 1,000 mg 2,500 mg
51 and older 1,200 mg 2,000 mg

5.  Consume Recommended Daily Allowance of Vitamin D

Having enough Vitamin D is another important part of bone health since it helps calcium absorb.  Vitamin D can be found in foods or supplements.  The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of Vitamin D is 600 IU for anyone between 1 and 70 years of age.  For those over 71 years, the recommendation increases to 800 IU.

Some great food choices that provide high amounts of Vitamin D are fatty fish, cheese, egg yolks, and foods fortified with Vitamin D such as dairy products, soy milk, orange juice, and many cereals.  It’s always best to get your nutrition directly from food when possible.  But if you find that difficult, supplements are another great option.

6. Get Enough Sunlight

Another excellent way to get enough Vitamin D is through sun exposure.  When skin is exposed to direct sunlight, it can synthesize Vitamin D.  This form of Vitamin D is not active though, it still needs to be processed by the liver and kidney to become active.  Experts feel that exposure to direct sunlight is the best way to get Vitamin D.  And when the weather cooperates, we should all be attempting to spend daily time in the sun.

The next questions are how much time I should spend in the sun and how much skin needs to be exposed.  Don’t worry, you don’t need to wear a bikini or spend your entire day outside.  There are some variations in how much exposure is needed such as skin color, location, and the time of day.  These variations make it difficult to provide specific guidelines, but generally speaking, a fair-skinned person may only need to spend 10-15 minutes in the sunlight.  But, a dark-skinned individual may need to spend up to two hours outdoors to achieve the same results.

The more skin you expose (such as your back or legs), the larger the amount of Vitamin D you will synthesize.  The good news is that you can’t overdose from sunlight since the body knows when to stop producing.  However, since you don’t use sunscreen for this type of exposure, you will need to be cautious about getting sunburn.

7. Increase Weight Bearing Exercise

Did you know that if you perform weight-bearing exercises such as walking, dancing, aerobics, and climbing stairs you would make your bones stronger?  Weight-bearing exercises are ones that make your body work hard against gravity.  Once your body senses that a particular part of your body is being used, it will send osteoblasts to that area and start to build a bigger, stronger bone.

For this reason, it’s important to perform weight-bearing exercises on all parts of your body.  You can do a variety of type of push-ups, lifting weights, and yard-work or even play your favorite sport.  The key is to start slow, and gradually move toward a regular habit where all body parts are exercised.  This gives you the best opportunity to grow strong bones and stay health.  This way you may be able to avoid fractures and breaks and keep your bones doing what they were meant to do.

Reflection Questions

  1. Which of the 7 areas related to bone health do you have room for the most improvement?
  2. What one change are you willing to make this week in order to start strengthening your bones?

References

The following are all from the Mayo Clinic website.

Caffeine:  How much is too much?  

Calcium and calcium supplements:  Achieving the right balance.

Vitamin D:  Dosing.

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