Having healthy bones is an investment that will pay dividends long into your elderly years, and while women have been taught to think proactively about their bone health, this is an issue that effects men and women alike. Weak bones can cause severe chronic pain and fractures – but you don’t want to wait until they are weak to do something about it. The key to healthy bones is to start early! The following tips apply to both men and women.
- Get your calcium! While we tend to think of dairy-based foods for this, there is quite a bit of calcium in leafy green vegetables (broccoli, kale, and spinach), oranges, fish, and supplements. If you’d prefer to take a calcium pill, look for one with vitamin D and calcium citrate, NOT calcium carbonate. The citrate form is much easier for your body to absorb and use.
- Get enough Vitamin D. This wonder vitamin is produced in the skin while we’re in the sun. Usually 5-10 minutes, 3 times a week is enough, but not necessarily. We are finding now that more and more people are deficient in this vitamin, and it is absolutely necessary for maintaining blood calcium levels and maintaining good bone mass. If you have any doubts here, have your doctor test vitamin D in your blood. Most people need 1000-2000U per day.
- USE your bones! The old adage is true, if you don’t use it you lose it. It is absolutely crucial that you are doing some weight-bearing exercise to stimulate your body to keep those bones strong. Weight-bearing means actual weight-lifting, jogging, aerobics, walking, etc. It does not mean swimming or pool exercises, where the water takes the pressure off of the bones.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. This means not too much, and not too little. Researchers have found that a low body weight is a big contributor to osteoporosis and osteopenia! Calculate your BMI, and make sure that it’s in the normal range – if you are at 19 or 20, it’s time to start putting some muscle on those bones and bring your BMI up to 21. Having a BMI above 25 isn’t necessarily bad for your bones, but opens you up to a host of other problems, so let’s aim for the middle ground.
- Don’t rely solely on a DEXA scan (bone scan) to determine the health of your bones. It’s the most popular test we have, and it shows bone density (which doctors love to see after they’ve put you on medication), but what we’re starting to find is that it isn’t a good predictor of fracture risk. The whole idea of strengthening your bones is to prevent a fracture! I recommend that people supplement their DEXA scan with a simple urine test for deoxypyridinoline, which measures how quickly your body is breaking down bones.