When you hear the phrase “bone health,” it’s likely that osteoporosis – a lack of bone health – is one of the first things that comes to mind. Many people think osteoporosis is only a concern for older generations, but we are here to dispel that myth. Bone health is important from day one and has more to do with living a long and healthy life than whether you suffer from osteoporosis later in life.
Building strong bones starts in childhood and continues into your late 20s, when peak bone mass is achieved. Peak bone mass is defined as “the maximum amount of bone accrued during young adulthood.” Peak bone mass plays a role in bone fractures in childhood as well as later in life.
As evidenced in the graphic, and as we’ve previously written about in Lifelines, bone loss occurs rapidly after age 50. Women are at increased risk for fractures and osteoporosis, but men are also at risk for an osteoporosis-related break.
Peak bone mass is determined in part by genetics and in part by lifestyle choices. While you can’t change your family history, you can control the behaviors that promote or impair peak bone mass.
Build in Childhood
Peak bone mass occurs by the time you reach 30 years old, making childhood a critical time for building bone mass for the rest of your life.
It’s important to encourage your children or loved ones to eat a healthy diet and engage in physical activity for optimal bone health. A well-balanced diet should include calcium-rich foods like milk, yogurt and green leafy vegetables, limited consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and adequate amounts of vitamin D through food and the sun (remember to apply sunscreen and practice other sun safe behaviors!).
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, children between the ages of six and 17 should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. This activity should include aerobic activities like sports or bike riding, muscle-strengthening activities like push-ups or swinging on playground equipment and bone-strengthening activities like hopscotch and jumping rope.
Behaviors like wearing a seatbelt and using helmets and pads during sports protect bones, while smoking and drinking alcohol are harmful to bones. Talk to your child about how their lifestyle choices can impact them in childhood and for years to come.
Maintain in Adulthood
Nutrients for Bone Health
|Nutrient||Bone Health Function||Food Sources|
|Calcium||If you don’t get enough calcium through food or supplements, your body will take the calcium it needs from your bones.||Milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu, leafy green vegetables, sesame seeds, almonds, fortified foods|
|Vitamin D||Necessary for calcium to be absorbed in the intestine.||Fatty fish like swordfish and salmon, eggs, fortified foods|
Source: American Bone Health
After peak bone mass occurs at age 30, the next two decades should be spent maintaining this bone mass and avoiding premature bone loss. Similar to during childhood, consuming adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D remain important for maintaining bone mass; consider taking a supplement if you do not get enough of these nutrients through food.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week and engage in at least two days of full body muscle-strengthening activities a week. More information about the physical activity recommendations for adults, especially if you’re just starting out, can be found here.
Other lifestyle practices that help maintain bone mass include limiting alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks a day. Following safe practices while on and off the job, such as wearing task-appropriate personal protective equipment, can also help prevent bruises and broken bones.
Minimize Loss in Retirement Years
Rapid bone loss can start in the 50s for women but typically does not accelerate for men until their 70s. During this time, it’s more important than ever for men and women to make their health a priority by eating a nutritious diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, as well as increasing protein consumption to maintain muscle strength so they can remain physically active.
As long as you are in good overall health, the physical activity recommendations for older adults are the same as earlier in adulthood. However, if chronic conditions impair or limit your mobility, listen to your body and don’t overexert yourself. As you age, the risk for falling also rises, so focus on exercises that strengthen core and lower body muscles as well as improve balance.
No matter where you or loved ones fall in the spectrum – building bone mass, maintaining bone mass or minimizing bone loss – the primary behaviors remain the same for optimal bone health: eating a balanced diet, engaging in physical activity and practicing safe behaviors. Follow these three behaviors and you are likely to live a long, healthy and mobile life.
[Emily Smith is the Health Promotion Division’s Senior Benefit & Wellness Specialist.]