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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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Making Healthy Food Choices: It’s More Complicated Than You Might Think

Making Healthy Food Choices: It’s More Complicated Than You Might Think

People use the phrase “healthy food choices” all the time these days.  When we first hear it, it sounds easy enough to understand.  It seems universal, a phrase that would mean the same thing to everyone.  But upon closer examination, we find that the phrase “healthy food choices” means something different to everyone.  It’s not nearly as standard as you might be tempted to think.  In this post, I am going to share 6 Reasons why making healthy food choices is a bit more complicated that you might think.

food choicesKatie Smith/ Unsplash.com

1.  Availability of Food

Not everyone has the same foods available to choose from.  In certain parts of the world, you won’t find super-sized grocery stores with lots of choices.  Actually, in some places, you may not find any stores at all, and all food needs to be homegrown.

In other situations, there may be plenty of food choices around, but a family does not have enough money to purchase high quality cuts of meat, seafood and organic fruits and vegetables.

As you can see, asking a financially strapped person in a third world country how they define healthy food is going to be quite different from a wealthy person in a first world country.  Sometimes it comes down to what you can get, what you can afford, and what’s not contaminated or what won’t hurt you.

2.  Health Needs Differ

Saying eat healthy to a diabetic patient is going to mean something different from saying make healthy food choices to a patient with kidney disease.  The diabetic needs to carefully watch sugar and carbohydrate intake.  Whereas, the patient with kidney disease needs to keep a very close eye on water, salt, and certain other nutrients.  What is healthy for one person, may not be healthy for another and vice versa.

I have a gastrointestinal condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).  This means the food and stomach contents in my stomach has a tendency to move back up into my esophagus, where it doesn’t belong.  This causes me to feel very uncomfortable at times, but it also has the potential to cause significant damage to my esophagus.  Some studies have even shown a link to cancer.  I have been cautioned to avoid certain foods and have also noticed that certain foods cause me more trouble than others.  So, even though something may be considered very healthy, for me it may be a big no-no!

3.  Preferences Vary

When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter how healthy experts claim something to be, if you don’t like it you’re not going eat it.  Also certain cultures tend to eat foods that other ones would not even dream of eating.  Here is the US, we have olive bars in just about every grocery store.  Some people even include olives on the list of the world’s healthiest foods.  Although I have tried them on a few occasions, and realize they have many health benefits, I can’t stand them.  So, I’m not going to eat them by choice.  They would have to the only option and I would have to be famished for me to think they were a good option.

Preferences go beyond just what people like and don’t like. Preferences include major diet choices such as choosing to be vegetarian, vegan, paleo, or strictly organic.  Sometimes diet are chosen due to cultural or religious beliefs.  Other times they are chosen due to the perception that they are the healthiest way to go.  Nevertheless, as we can see a meat eater and a non-meat eater are not going to think the same thing about the health benefits of a turkey dinner.  One might think real turkey meat is awesome and the only way to go.  The other may be looking for the best soy substitute so that actual meat won’t ever touch their lips.  Neither is necessarily wrong, it’s just a matter of preference.

4.  Allergies & Food Sensitivities

If you look at the dietary recommendations from just about any authority they will tell you that you need a certain number of dairy portions for a healthy diet.  Well, that’s great unless of course you have an allergy to dairy.  The same goes for other food that frequently cause people allergic or sensitivity problems.  A few that I have come across in my nursing career are peanuts, shellfish, eggs, wheat, and strawberries.

While a food may in itself beneficial to the body, each of body’s respond to food differently.  I have a relative who loves ice cream but must be close to a restroom when he chooses to eat it.  Some people are sensitive to sulfites.  Sulfites are chemicals that are added to some foods to help preserve them.  A few examples are wine, bottled lemon juice, and dried fruit.  While these foods are not unhealthy in moderate amounts, they are not healthy food choices if they’re likely to make you sick.  WebMD notes that some sulfite sensitivities can be life threatening.

5.  Perceptions of What Healthy Means

Even if you are talking about people of equal financial means, in the same general location, and they tend to like similar thing and no one has allergies, healthy can still mean something different.  It has to do with what we perceive the word to mean.  Our perceptions come from personal experiences, what we have been taught, and the culture we live in.

Growing up in a middle class home, we tended to eat well-balanced meals that were moderately priced.  Feeding three kids on one full-time salary meant my parents had to spend wisely.  I don’t think I ever heard of organic foods and certainly never ate any.  I didn’t understand the benefits of organic foods and didn’t understand why someone would pay more money for ugly-looking food.  My perception was that only extreme health nuts ate organic foods.  Often these people were doing very well financially and could easily afford this extravagance.

Today, I know much more about the benefits of organic foods.  In fact, if you’d like to hear more about this topic, I invite you to listen to my podcast entitled E-Books, Personal Learning, and Organic Food Choices.  This brings me to another key point, perceptions change.  My income level has varied greatly over the last 30 years.  There were times when I had more than enough, and times when I have counted my pennies.  In the lean times, 3 boxes of pasta for a dollar sounded really healthy to me.  In times of abundance, I have purchased organic fruits, vegetables, and meats that I considered healthier choices at the time.

6.  Experts Disagree

In an article by Quealy & Sanger-Katz (2016) called “Is Sushi ‘Healthy’, What About Granola, Where Americans and Nutritionists Disagree”  these authors discuss a study of what different people consider healthy.  I would expect the public to have differences of opinion, since everyone has different experiences and levels of education.  However, I would not have expected so much variation among the experts.

There were some foods both the public and experts agreed were healthy.  This list included apples, oranges, oatmeal, chicken, and turkey.  Then there were some that both groups agreed were not healthy.  These included hamburgers, diet soda, beef jerky, white bread, and chocolate chip cookies.  But then there was a list that no one was quite sure about.  Items on this list included pop corn, pork chops, whole milk, steak, and cheddar cheese.  I have to say, it only adds to the confusion about what constitutes healthy food choices when the experts can’t even agree.

Reflection Questions

  1. How do you define healthy food?
  2. Do you have any strong preferences of foods you love or can’t bear the thought of?
  3. How do you handle other people’s food preferences if they’re different from your own?

Resources

Quealy, K. & Sanger-Katz, M (2016).  Is Sushi ‘Healthy’, What About Granola, Where Americans and Nutritionists Disagree.  The New York Times.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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