Small Changes, Big Rewards

It's easier than you think to strengthen your bones! Find out how.

Health Monitor Staff
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More than half of women over 50 are at risk of having fractures due to the bone-weakening disease osteoporosis, reports the National Osteoporosis Foundation. And that’s critical since brittle bones can lead to fractures that trigger long-lasting pain, rob inches from your height, cause a hunched back, reduce your mobility and even raise your risk of dying due to complications during or while recovering from surgery to repair the breaks.

Now the good news: Lowering your risk of osteoporosis is as simple as making small changes to your diet, fitness and lifestyle. Read on to learn how easy it is to start strengthening your skeleton today.

  1. Get the vitamin D you need
    You’ve probably heard you should down plenty of calcium-rich foods, including milk, yogurt and cheese, to make your bones strong. But a study in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research reveals that all those foods won’t make a difference if you’re low on vitamin D—and since it’s one of the most common vitamin deficiencies today, that’s key.
    Why it works:
    Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and form new bone, explains lead study author Bess Dawson-Hughes, MD, senior scientist and director of the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. She recommends: 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium (the equivalent of eight ounces of non-fat yogurt and two cups of skim milk) and 800 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily.

  2. Pile on the produce
    Milk may hog the spotlight when it comes to bone-healthy foods, but according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, loading up on fruits and vegetables is also important to maintaining strong bones as you age.
    Why it works:
    Diets high in protein and cereal grains—the kind most folks in Western countries eat—produce an excess of a certain acid in the body. As we age, the body becomes less efficient at excreting this acid, putting our bones at greater risk. However, eating fruits and vegetables counters the risk by adding bicarbonate, an alkaline compound that neutralizes the acid, to your system, explains Dr. Dawson-Hughes, who led the study.

  3. Flatten a tummy
    Experts have warned for years that being too thin can cause brittle bones. In fact, having a few extra pounds was once considered a factor in lowering your risk of osteoporosis. However, a new study in the journal Obesity now reveals that carrying too much weight in your belly—known as visceral fat, which forms underneath muscle and wraps around your organs—turns out to be a significant risk factor for osteoporosis. Luckily, shrinking your stomach with diet and exercise can reverse this risk.
    Why it works:
    While the exact reason is not known, it is likely due to a combination of bone-weakening substances released from the visceral fat cells themselves, plus a lower level of bone-supporting hormones. The result: Reduced bone density as well as more bone marrow fat, which has been linked to more fragile bones, says lead study author Miriam A. Bredella, MD, a radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

March 2012