Beyond Trim: It’s never too late to strengthen your bones

Sherry DeWalt

May is Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month, and one of the things of which you should be aware is the importance of physical activity in preventing osteoporosis and in limiting its progression.

The bones in your body are constantly “remodeling.” That means they are building and breaking down. When you’re young, they build faster than they break down. As you get older, they can begin to break down faster than they build. Osteoporosis occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone or both. As a result, bones become weak and more prone to breakage.

How does physical activity help to prevent bone loss? Just like your muscles, your bones get stronger when you work out. In fact, it’s that action of muscle pulling against the bone that helps to stimulate bone growth. Weight-bearing exercises (walking, dancing, jogging) and strength training (lifting free weights; using weight machines; or doing pushups, squats, etc. that use your own body weight) are best for your bones. They’re the ones that force your body to work against gravity or resistance as you move.

Nutrition also is important for maintaining bone health, but it goes beyond calcium. Vitamin D helps your body to use calcium. Both calcium and vitamin D can be obtained from supplements, but many experts agree that it’s best to get calcium from calcium-rich foods, and your body will make its own vitamin D with several minutes of sun exposure every day (not too much – you don’t want to increase your skin cancer risk.) Other nutrients that figure heavily into optimal bone health include protein, vitamin C and vitamin K, all of which are readily available from a healthy diet that consists of whole foods with lean sources of protein, fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grain, nuts and seeds.

There are other lifestyle choices that can affect the health of your bones. Smoking, drinking too much alcohol and eating a high-sodium diet can weaken bones. Some studies show that soda, especially colas, may lead to bone loss.

Dr. Miriam Nelson is a researcher affiliated with Tufts University. She is the author of “Strong Women Strong Bones,” and her research in strength training and nutrition showed that osteoporosis can be slowed and even reversed with exercise and proper nutrition. Some of the participants in her research were women in their 80s and 90s, so don’t think that it’s too late for you to do something about your bone health.

  • Sherry DeWalt is the healthy lifestyles coordinator for the CGH Health Foundation in Sterling.
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