Guest Columnist
Keys to Lifelong Bone Health
May 30, 2013 - 4:46:47 PM

( - People don't often think about their bone health when making choices about their overall wellbeing - until they suffer fractures or other negative effects of bone-density loss, usually later in life. Many believe osteoporosis, a serious bone disease that affects 44 million people in the United States, is an inevitable fact of aging, but this is not true. Simply making the right lifestyle choices before age 50 can greatly reduce a person's risk of developing the disease.

Osteoporosis is the most common type of bone disease. The name means "porous bone," and the disease is characterized by low b

one mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue. It leads to weak, brittle bones, increasing the risk of fractures, especially of the hip, wrist or spine, although any bone can be affected. According to the "2012 Surgeon General's Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis: What It Means to You," approximately 4 in 10 women and 1 in 10 men over the age of 50 will break a hip, wrist or part of their spine due to decreased bone density. By 2020, about half of all Americans over 50 will be affected by osteoporosis. Currently, approximately 10 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with the condition, and another 34 million have a high risk of developing it.

Bone health is a crucial aspect of overall wellbeing. Bones are living, growing tissues that support the body and protect vital organs. They also serve as a reservoir of calcium and phosphorus, which are essential minerals for the function of various cellular activities throughout the body. Bones contain collagen (a protein), calcium phosphate and living cells that nourish the tissue and control the process of bone remodeling - when new bone is made (bone formation) and old bone is broken down (resorption). Our bones are constantly renewed through this remodeling process throughout our lives.

Before age 30, when our bones reach 100 percent of peak bone mass, the rate of bone formation exceeds the rate of resorption. After that, usually beginning around age 35, bone resorption slowly begins to exceed formation, resulting in a decline in bone mass. Women typically lose more bone mass than men during the first few years after menopause, but beginning at about age 65, the rate of decline evens out between women and men.

While age plays a big role in the decline in bone mass, other factors contribute as well. These include hormone levels, genetics, physical activity, nutrition, tobacco use and medication use. Not surprisingly, simple lifestyle choices-especially before age 50-can play a big role in reducing some of these risk factors.

First of all, watch what you eat. Yes, your diet affects your bones, and overall poor nutrition can lead to serious problems. Avoid excess animal protein, sodium, refined carbohydrates, added sugars and fat. Include nutrient-rich plant foods - fruits, vegetables, starchy vegetables, whole grains and legumes. And of course, make sure you're getting enough calcium and Vitamin D. Good sources of calcium include green, leafy vegetables and (non-fat) dairy products like milk and yogurt. Good sources of Vitamin D are sockeye salmon, mackerel and tuna, as well as dairy products and certain types of mushrooms.

And of course, staying physically active goes a long way to maintaining strong, healthy bones. Exercise strengthens bones and slows bone loss. In particular, weight-bearing and strength-building exercises are great for bone health, and the younger you start, the stronger your bones will be. The 2012 Surgeon General's report encourages adults to exercise for 30 minutes each day. Children and young adults should exercise 60 minutes a day. Good weight-bearing activities include dancing, practicing aerobics, hiking, jogging, jumping rope, climbing stairs and playing tennis. Strength-building exercises can include lifting weights, using resistance bands or weight machines and performing functional movements (like standing and rising on your toes). Just like muscles, bones become stronger and stay stronger through regular exercise.

Other important lifestyle modifiers should be no-brainers. Smoking is bad for your bones. So is heavy drinking. Avoid tobacco, and reduce or cease alcohol consumption to optimize your bone health.

A lot of maintaining bone health ties directly to maintaining overall health. Responsible diet and exercise choices are key not just to strong, healthy bones, but to health in general. The younger you make good nutrition and regular exercise part of your daily routine, the better off you will be down the road. And focusing on maintaining strong, healthy bones now will greatly reduce your risk for loss of bone density and dangerous fractures later in life. Osteoporosis is not inevitable. Make the choices now that will ensure lasting bone health into old age.

Jarrod Ruby is Communications Director at EHE International. Follow EHE on Twitter at @Eheintl
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