We all naturally lose bone mass as we grow older. Severe bone loss can result in health issues like osteoporosis, which can make adults more prone to fractures and injuries as we age. But there are healthy steps older Canadians can take to protect, reinforce, and aid better bone health.
Why is bone health important?
We all probably remember being told to drink our milk as kids. There’s still some truth in this statement—our bones are our body’s storage spots for calcium. Strong bones help support our bodies, protect vital organs, and store minerals and calcium. As people get older and bone density decreases, mobility may become more limited and you’re more prone to falls or fractures. Until the age of 30, bones are constantly building and restructuring to reinforce strength. But as we reach the end of our thirties, bone mass begins to decrease. Other factors like menopause exacerbate the breakdown of bone density as women’s bodies stop producing the estrogen that helps protect them against bone loss.
What happens to our bones as we age?
As children, adolescents and adults, we reach peak bone mass, which slowly begins to deplete as we reach 40. Our body gets calcium from the food we eat. However, if your calcium intake is low, calcium will be drawn from by bones instead. That’s why it’s so important to consume adequate amounts of calcium at any age. Those of us who built strong bones and protective muscles as younger adults will have a higher bone density as we age, which helps protect our bones as seniors. This can help prevent injury, brittle bones, and other health concerns.
How bones change over time
You may think that once you’ve reached adulthood, your bones remain static. However, bone is a living tissue that constantly renews itself and alters as we age.
- Childhood and adolescence: The body builds up bone density and strength steadily through childhood and adolescence, until the age of 25 to 35.
- Age 20 to 40: Bone mass peaks within this time frame, and begins to decline. Bone strength is steady in mid-adulthood, peaking and then beginning a decline that continues into old age. The bone strength you’ve accumulated up until now can serve as a sort of bank, stocking up for the natural future bone decline that aging brings.
- Age 50 to 65: Bone loss is exacerbated in menopausal women. Bone loss occurs gradually in men but continues steadily to decline.
- Age 65+: Bone mass gradually decreases and steadily wanes for both men and women. Clinical risk factors like fragility fractures are higher, especially for women.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a scarcity of bone, which can happen when the body is unable to regenerate bone, or when bone loss takes place over time. Our bodies are consistently absorbing and replacing bone tissue. We think of bones as hard objects, but the centre of a healthy bone looks like a sponge with pores inside a harder shell. Osteoporosis occurs when bones become fragile, weak and brittle, often causing a fracture. In this case, the holes in the porous part of the bone multiply and grow, which creates a weaker centre for the bone. Many older Canadians have osteoporosis and don’t notice symptoms until they suffer an injury or fracture.
How can older people prevent osteoporosis?
The best way to avoid osteoporosis is to reinforce bone strength and help prevent any further bone loss. This includes a healthy diet with nutrients to build bone density and exercises that help build up bone strength and protect brittle bones. Choosing a low-impact form of exercise and maintaining a healthy diet and weight can help protect and reinforce healthy bones.
Tips for healthy bones and improving bone density
There are certain factors outside of control when it comes to bone mass and density; hereditary, hormones, ethnicity, and body type factors all influence the way our bones grow and deplete. But there are still many steps you can take to build bone health.
1. Eat a healthy diet
Healthy eating habits can help reinforce bone health. Calcium and vitamin D are both important. Calcium builds and maintains bone strength, while vitamin D is important in helping your body absorb the calcium it needs. Eating enough protein can also help your body remain strong and agile; several studies connect high protein intake to bone mineral density and content. Protein has been connected to a lower incidence of hip fractures and other risk factors in these studies. We often think of milk when we think of calcium. Milk, yogurt, and kefir are full of calcium, but many vegetables and fruits are also rich in calcium and other nutrients. Making your own meals can be a great way to maximize nutrients and there are many other benefits of cooking at home.
Here are some more calcium-rich foods to include in your diet:
- Broccoli: 180 mg/cup
- Cooked spinach: 240 mg/cup
- Arugula: 125 mg/cup
- Orange juice: 300 mg/cup
- Kiwi: 50 mg/cup
- Dry figs: 300 mg/cup
2. Have an active lifestyle
You’re at a higher risk of bone loss and osteoporosis if you’re always sitting or sedentary. Set a timer that reminds you to get up and walk every hour, and schedule low-impact exercise that builds up your bone strength with minimal risk of fractures. Activities like swimming, yoga, stretching, and tai chi can be great ways to reinforce movement, build muscle, and support healthy bones. Avoid high-impact activities if you’re at high risk of osteoporosis. This might include jumping, rock climbing, running, and wrestling. Read more about the best exercises for older adults.
3. Avoid unhealthy habits
Consider how your habits could influence the health of your bones. Smoking and excessive drinking both increase the risk of osteoporosis in older people. Smoking increases the risk of bone fractures. Coffee can be good for you, but too much coffee can keep your body from absorbing calcium. Try to stick to less than two cups a day to avoid interfering with your body’s absorption of calcium.
4. Maintain a healthy body weight
Maintain a balanced lifestyle so that your bones can support the weight of your body without any strain. A balance of exercise and healthy eating helps you stay within a healthy body mass index.
5. Talk to your doctor
Ask your medical professional or family physician about how your medications could affect bone density, and make sure you’re getting bone density tests if you’re a woman over 65 or a man over the age of 70. A density scan can test to see if you’re at a risk of osteoporosis and monitor the density of your bones.
Bone health tips from an expert
We asked Boomerang host and Exercise Coach Diana McNeil about the nuances of prevention, maintenance, and strength when it comes to bone health. From a fitness perspective, we know that exercise can play a vital role in maintaining and potentially increasing our bone mineral density. But how much and what types of exercise are required?
Best routine to maintain strong bones
Here’s what Diana recommends: As a BoneFit™ Trained Fitness Professional and proud volunteer with Osteoporosis Canada, I know that experts at Osteoporosis Canada and Ontario Osteoporosis Strategy have developed the perfect recipe to help you maintain strong bones.
This routine to help build bone density includes:
- Strength training two to three times per week
- Weight-bearing aerobic exercise—this should be at least 150 minutes per week
- Daily balance training
- Daily posture checks
Additionally, regular stretching is a great complement to your movement practice to keep your joints moving well. The great news is that the ability to keep your bones strong is possible with a little hard work. To help you make exercise a regular part of your week, it is important to find classes and teachers you enjoy spending time with.
Diana hosts a variety of bone-safe workshops on Boomerang. Get started by signing up for online classes with Diana McNeil.
Stay healthy and build up bone density with Boomerang workshops
Reinforce bone health with Boomerang. Our online pilates and fitness classes for seniors offer modified exercises, workshops, and classes to protect and build up your bone strength. Try chair pilates classes, online slow yoga, or stability ball sculpting workshops.
With Boomerang, older adults can register for online workshops in areas of their interest. Our online workshops are led by passionate instructors to help you explore your interests.
Sign up for Boomerang today