Use exercise and good nutrition to stay strong
While you’re carrying them around, all 206 of your bones work hard to keep you healthy. Do the same for them and your whole body benefits.
Exercise and Diet
Bones consist of 65 percent calcium phosphate and 35 percent protein (collagen matrix)—living tissue that’s constantly breaking down and reforming. You produce more bone than is destroyed until about age 30, and then you begin to lose bone mass. But whatever your age, the right exercise and diet can help keep your bones fit.
“The stimulus for new bone growth is using bone cells, and you do that by moving your body,” says Amy Joy Lanou, PhD, associate professor of health and wellness at the University of North Carolina, Asheville, and co-author of Building Bone Vitality.
Thirty minutes a day should do it. Walk, dance, houseclean, garden, and lift weights. “Anything that puts stress on the bone strengthens them,” says Dr. Lanou.
Your hips, spine, and wrists suffer the most as you age, so focus on these areas. Maintain good posture while moving or still and stretch before and after exercise.
Why You Need Calcium
Meanwhile, get a healthy amount of calcium. Too little softens your bones but too much makes bones brittle, says Dr. Lanou. She suggests getting 500 to 800 mg of calcium a day—up to 250 to 500 mg of that amount may be obtained from supplements.
“Most people eliminate the hundreds of milligrams of calcium they consume each day,” she says. “The big problem is getting the calcium from the digestive track to the blood and then to the bone, and keeping it there.” This requires a low-acid, or more alkaline, diet—natural, unprocessed meals and snacks of fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes, and a low-to-moderate amount of animal protein. Good calcium sources include broccoli, kale, kelp, turnip greens, and low-fat yogurt.
Says Annemarie Colbin, PhD, author of The Whole-Food Guide to Strong Bones, “Think of the animals with the biggest bones—cows, horses, giraffes. They all eat leafy greens. But you also need protein for the collagen matrix in your bones.”
If you don’t get enough of these foods, or you eat too many refined carbohydrates, such as white flour, white rice and sugar, your body robs calcium and other nutrients from your bones.
Don’t Forget D
Vitamin D is needed for the absorption of calcium. Research shows that it plays a key role in reducing the risk of bone fragility and susceptibility to fracture. To know if you’re getting enough of this vitamin, see your healthcare provider for a vitamin D test.
Sun is your best source. “Without using sunscreen, get as much as you can without burning about 10 to 60 minutes a day, depending on your skin,” advises Dr. Colbin.
There’s also vitamin D in wild ocean fish, fish roe, and shitake mushrooms. You need healthful fats such as extra virgin olive oil, unrefined sesame oil, and organic coconut oil as well as omega 3 fats from fish and flaxseed, “since vitamin D needs fat to stay in the body.” A recent animal study also shows that increased intakes of omega-3 fatty acids—particularly DHA—may result in stronger bones.
Good bone health lowers your risk of bone disease, such as osteoporosis and its precursor, osteopenia, and other diseases. So take care of that skeleton of yours! When you do, your bones will take care of you.