Your bones and skeleton provide essential support for your entire body, protect your vital organs, and play a pivotal role in maintaining mobility. This means that bone health is a vital part of your overall well-being and its importance cannot be overstated.
As we age, we naturally lose some bone strength, becoming more susceptible to breaks, fractures, and conditions such as osteoporosis, which can be both painful and debilitating. This means that it becomes increasingly important to adopt strategies that will preserve and strengthen our bones.
In today’s article, you will learn more about the factors that influence bone health and some of our practical tips to help you maintain strong bones as you age.
The Factors That Influence Bone Health (and How You Can Protect Yours)
Numerous factors influence your bone health throughout your life, and particularly as you age. Fortunately, many of them are under your control, allowing you to take charge of your bone health and give yourself the best chance of living an active and pain-free life.
Here are just a few important bone health factors to be aware of.
Genetics and Medical Conditions
Your genes influence every part of your body and its overall health. If you have a family history of a condition such as osteoporosis, you are at a higher risk of getting it yourself (though this does not imply that you definitely will.)
No matter your genetics or current health status, it is a good idea to schedule regular check-ups with your healthcare provider to monitor bone health as you age and discuss any concerns. Bone density tests can help to assess your risk of problems and guide you through appropriate preventive measures.
Maintaining a well-balanced diet is vital for all aspects of good health, including bone health. Your diet should include the right balance of the three macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) as well as all the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs. Focus on plant-based foods, choose high-quality animal-based foods if you eat them, and limit highly processed foods.
Consuming sufficient protein is essential for bone health. Lean meats, fish, beans, and dairy products are all great sources of protein. Adequate calcium (found in foods such as dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified cereals) and vitamin D (obtainable from sunlight exposure, fatty fish, and supplements) are also crucial for maintaining bone density.
For some people, supplementation can help to ensure they are getting adequate amounts of these nutrients. Consult with your healthcare provider to determine if calcium and vitamin D supplements are suitable for you.
Physical Activity and Fitness
Keeping fit is a great way to protect your bone health throughout your life, and particularly in your later years.
Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, dancing, and resistance training can help to maintain bone density. Activities that enhance balance and flexibility, such as yoga and tai chi, can reduce your risk of accidents such as falls.
Aim to get at least 30 minutes of exercise five days per week, and vary your routine to get a full-body workout and keep things interesting.
Over time, excessive alcohol intake can interfere with calcium absorption and negatively impact your bone health. Too much alcohol can also have an array of other negative health impacts, most notably being a leading cause of liver disease.
Limit alcohol consumption to promote overall well-being, including bone health. The CDC recommends no more than two drinks per day for men and one for women. Have at least a few alcohol-free days every week.
Smoking has been linked to decreased bone density and an increased risk of fractures. According to the UK’s National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training (NCSCT), smoking is “a risk factor for poor bone health as it affects the metabolism of hormones, body weight, vitamin D levels, calcium absorption, blood circulation and increases oxidative stress thus disrupting healthy bone resorption and formation, leading to osteoporosis.”
Smoking also carries a huge array of other health risks, including various cancers and lung disease. If you smoke, try to quit as soon as you can. If you don’t currently smoke, do not start.
Accidents and Falls
As you age, you become more prone to accidents such as falls. These also become more risky in later life as your bone density decreases.
If you are worried about falls, modify your living space to reduce tripping hazards and use assistive devices, such as handrails and grab bars, if necessary. Have your vision checked regularly, too, as clear vision is crucial for maintaining balance and preventing falls.
It’s Never too Late to Start!
Protecting bone health as you age involves a combination of nutrition, exercise, lifestyle choices, and regular medical assessments. By adopting a proactive approach to bone health, you can reduce your risk of fractures, osteoporosis, and other bone-related issues that become more prevalent in later life. If you prioritize your bone health today, you will give yourself the gift of a healthy and active tomorrow.