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As we grow older and more of our hair turns gray, concerns about high blood pressure, cognitive decline, and cancer risks can preoccupy our minds. However, one condition often overlooked is osteoporosis. This chronic disease reduces bone mineral density and bone mass. Unmanaged, it can cause fractures, particularly in the hip or spine.
Osteoporosis affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men aged 50 and up worldwide. Fortunately, even in adulthood, we can take steps to preserve bone health.
How to Keep Aging Bones Strong and Healthy
It’s never too late to take better care of our bones. Here’s how we can slow bone loss and move like we’re still young, even in our 50s and beyond.
1. Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet
An anti-inflammatory diet includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and fish. It delays bone loss, particularly in postmenopausal women, who lose up to 20% of their bone density in the first 5 to 6 years after menopause.
This diet is abundant in protein, calcium, vitamin K, and magnesium, all of which help maintain bone health.
For women and men over 50, experts recommend a daily intake of 1,200 milligrams and 1,000 milligrams of calcium, respectively. Here’s an example of what to consume:
- An eight-ounce cup of skim milk (300 mg)
- Two dried figs (65 mg)
- One cup of cooked collard greens (266 mg)
- Three ounces of canned sardines with bones (325 mg)
- Eight ounces of vanilla ice cream (85 mg)
Furthermore, load up on potassium-rich fruits and veggies like bananas, spinach, broccoli, and potatoes, as well as magnesium-rich foods like nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Studies suggest that potassium and magnesium enhance bone density.
Adequate protein intake matters, too. It facilitates bone repair and remodeling, especially as you age. To prevent deficiency, the average sedentary adult should eat 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight.
2. Combat sedentary behavior
Just as you shed excess weight and strengthen muscles through exercise, your bones also reap rewards. Some effective exercises for bone health are weight-bearing activities like walking and weightlifting, ideally for 30 minutes on most days of the week. If you have back problems or a previous spine injury, consult a medical professional before attempting weight training or spinal flexibility exercises.
Regular physical activity minimizes the risk of hip and overall fractures in postmenopausal women. If you are in good physical condition, challenge yourself further! A 2018 study revealed that high-intensity resistance and impact training – consisting of exercises like deadlifts, overhead presses, back squats, and jumping chin-ups – performed for 30 minutes twice a week improved bone density, structure, and strength in postmenopausal women.
3. Boost stability and balance
Poor balance due to arthritis, neurological conditions, vertigo, and other causes doubles the risk of sustaining an osteoporosis-related fracture. Improving your balance helps prevent accidental falls, even if osteoporosis is not already a concern.
You can gauge your stability through a simple self-test: Stand with one foot in front of the other, heel touching toe, and hold this position for 10 seconds. If you find it challenging, your chances of losing balance and tumbling over are high. These balance-strengthening activities might help:
- Walking, cycling, and climbing stairs strengthen muscles in the lower body.
- Practicing Tai chi, which involves shifting your weight from one foot to another, rotating your torso, and stretching your limbs, could slow bone loss, prevent falls, and lower fracture risk.
- Yoga improves flexibility and challenges your static and dynamic balance abilities.
If you struggle with balance problems due to a previous injury, consider getting physical therapy. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), physical therapists can help you gain more control over your body and reduce the risk of falling. A 2020 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity also concluded that balance and functional exercises prevent falls in older adults.
Bi-annual eye exams are also important, especially if you have vision problems. Age-related eye conditions, including cataracts and macular degeneration, can impair your vision, subsequently affecting your balance.
4. Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol
Smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, and high caffeine intake increase the risk of osteoporosis by obstructing calcium absorption, altering vitamin D responses, and impairing other mechanisms in the body.
- If you smoke, please read How to Quit Smoking to Save Your Life. Your health depends on you quitting as soon as possible.
- Cut down on alcohol (or quit altogether). Men should limit themselves to two drinks per day, while women should keep it to a maximum of one drink daily.
- Switch from caffeinated coffee, tea, and soft drinks to decaffeinated alternatives.
5. Keep up with screenings
Women should undergo their first bone density test at the age of 65, and men at the age of 70. However, a doctor may recommend screening at a younger age if you:
- Fractured a bone after age 50;
- Smoke and/or drink alcohol heavily;
- Are currently or have been on prolonged courses of medications like glucocorticoids and some anticonvulsants;
- Have conditions that heighten the risk of osteoporosis (diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, irregular menstrual periods, etc.)
In a bone scan, a nuclear medicine technologist compares your bone density to that of a healthy 30-year-old adult. If your initial scan shows normal results, you may not need testing for the next ten years as long as your risk factors for osteoporosis remain unchanged. Conversely, if you have osteopenia or low bone density (T-score between -1.5 and -2), you will need a follow-up scan within 3 to 5 years. In cases of osteoporosis, (T-score lower than -2), your doctor may require routine testing every two years.
Also read: Simple Ways to Prevent Osteoporosis
Takeaway: Prioritize Bone Health
“As you age, you begin to lose more bone than you form, which raises the risk of osteoporosis,” says Dr. Andrea Singer, clinical director of the National Osteoporosis Foundation. “But you can slow bone loss if you take certain preventative steps.” Start with an anti-inflammatory diet, break a sweat, improve balance and coordination, and get regular health check-ups.