By now, most women are probably very familiar with the idea that calcium builds strong bones. So when it comes to osteoporosis prevention strategies, many women who may be washing down a slice of cheese with a glass of milk every morning are under the assumption that their bone health must be in tip-top shape. No more broken bones or hip fractures! But unfortunately, there’s a little more to the story than just eating calcium-rich foods to build stronger, healthier new bone mass.
Yes, Calcium Is Important, But…
There’s no doubting that calcium is a crucial component of maintaining healthy bones. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, the amount of calcium you should consume daily increases as we age. They recommend that women ages 19-50 should consume 1,000 mg daily, and women over the age of 50 should consume at least 1,200 mg. You can usually get enough calcium from dairy products and a healthy, balanced diet, but in order for your body to effectively absorb the calcium that you’re putting into it and build bone mass (whether through diet or calcium supplements), you need to pair it with vitamin D.
The tricky thing about vitamin D, though, is that it’s very difficult to obtain through your diet alone. While sun exposure can help, its UV rays can be extremely detrimental to your skin health. That’s why the best way to get enough vitamin D is to take a 600-800 IU vitamin D supplement each day, depending on your age (National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases).
In addition to fueling your body with the right combination of nutrients to build and maintain strong bones, there are a few lifestyle factors that can greatly contribute to osteoporosis prevention.
Exercise and Physical Activity
Regular exercise is really one of the best things you can do for your overall health, including strengthening your bones and preventing bone loss. If you’re at risk for developing osteoporosis, try adding strength training, body weight, and aerobic exercises to your normal routine. Any type of regular weight-bearing exercise, such as weight lifting, climbing stairs, or even walking, helps to strengthen your bones and muscles (American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons).
Improving your balance and flexibility is another great way to give your bones a boost and help you to prevent your risk of fractures from falls. Meditative exercises like tai chi and yoga can improve your balance and flexibility, while also giving your mind and body a chance to unwind and recharge.
These types of exercises are also ideal for women struggling with joint or back pain, as the slow, fluid movements of practices like tai chi can promote muscle and bone strength without putting excessive strain on your joints (Osteoporosis International).
Kick Bad Habits
As much as we all may love our morning coffee and evening wine, reining in these habits can have a profoundly positive effect on our entire bodies. While small amounts of caffeine and red wine may come along with their own health benefits, keep in mind that these things truly are best in moderation. Excessive caffeine or alcohol intake can wreak havoc on your body and bone density, which can increase your risk for developing osteoporosis or experiencing a bone fracture. It’s best to limit alcohol consumption and save caffeine for when you really need the extra kick (Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases).
In the same vein, smoking has been shown to be a risk factor for bone density loss, bone fractures, and experiencing complications during the healing process (International Osteoporosis Foundation). But if you do smoke, kicking the habit now can have a dramatic impact on your overall health and well-being, as well as significantly aid in osteoporosis prevention.
The Bottom Line
Being proactive about osteoporosis prevention is very important to every woman’s health and well-being, and incorporating these tips into your daily routine can have a lasting impact on your bone health. After menopause, your bones start to break down quicker than new bone tissue can form. Postmenopausal women can take a bone density test to determine if they have osteoporosis or particularly low bone mass. Following a healthy diet with regular exercise will help you stay on the right path and prevent osteoporosis and it’s never too early to start!
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