Healthy bones

Weak bones may seem like a problem of aging, but there’s plenty we can do early in life to make sure bones stay healthy down the line,
The Community By Shayantani Sinha
Published on April 1, 2014
healthy exercise

Bones are quite literally the support system of the body, so it’s super important to keep them strong and healthy. Bones are continuously being broken down and rebuilt in tiny amounts. Before the age of 30, when bones typically reach peak bone mass, the body creates new bones faster, but after 30, the bone building balance shifts naturally and more bone is lost than gained. Some people have a lot of savings in their “bone bank” because of their genes, diet and the amount of bone they built up as teenagers. The natural depletion of bones do not affect these lucky ducks too drastically. However, in case of those with a smaller bone fortune, their bodies can’t create new bones fast enough. Therefore, the old bones are often lost and osteoporosis sets in, causing bones to become weak and brittle, thereby making them prone to fractures. The disease is most common in postmenopausal women over the age of 65 and in men over the age of 70. Once osteoporosis sets in, it’s extremely hard to reverse the process. The best way to counteract osteoporosis is to take steps early in life to beef up bone mass and prevent its loss. The Community lists some of the key points that may hep pump up bone mass for a healthier future.

KNOW YOUR FAMILY HISTORY

As with many medical conditions, family history is a key indicator of bone health. Those with a parent or sibling who has or had osteoporosis are more likely to develop it. “So, how’s your bone density, Grandma?” might seem like an awkward question at Thanksgiving dinner, but ask anyway before she passes the gravy.

BOOST CALCIUM CONSUMPTION

When most people think bones, they think calcium. This mineral is essential for the proper development of teeth and bones. Not to mention it’s a huge helper in proper muscle function, nerve signaling, hormone secretion, and blood pressure.
But calcium isn’t the end-all, be-all bone loss cure. The key might be to help the body absorb calcium by pairing calcium-rich foods with those high in vitamin D. Some studies on postmenopausal women have shown that simply adding calcium alone to the diet doesn’t have a huge affect on bone density (though follow-up studies have suggested the opposite). Foods that are good sources of calcium include yogurt, cheese, milk, spinach and collard greens.

DON’T FORGET THE VITAMIN D

Where there’s calcium, there must be vitamin D: the two work together to help the body absorb bone-boosting calcium. Boost vitamin D consumption by munching on shrimp, fortified foods like cereal and orange juice, sardines, eggs (in the yolks) and tuna, or opt for a vitamin D supplement. The body also produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun — 10 to 15 minutes of exposure three times per week will do. Vitamin D’s importance to bone health has been proven in studies on “seasonal bone loss”. The elderly people can lose more bone mass during the winter because of lack of sun exposure. Though these studies on bone loss looked at elderly people specifically, bone health is all about prevention, so younger folks should catch a few rays to stock up on D.

VITAMIN K TO BOOST BONE DENSITY

Vitamin K is mostly known for helping out with blood clotting, but it also helps the body make proteins for healthy bones. However, the exact way vitamin K contributes to bone health is unclear. Two studies on girls showed that vitamin K had different effects: one showed that vitamin K slowed bone turnover, but it didn’t have any effect on bone density, while the other found the reverse. Another study compared the effects of vitamins K and D on calcium absorption in rats, and it turned out that vitamin D stimulated calcium absorption in the intestines, while vitamin K reduced the amount of calcium excreted by the body. Regardless of how vitamin K might help, fill up on it with foods like kale, broccoli, Swiss chard and spinach.

PUMP UP THE POTASSIUM

Potassium isn’t necessarily known for aiding bone health: it’s a mineral that helps nerves and muscles communicate and also helps cells remove waste. But it turns out potassium may neutralize acids that remove calcium from the body. Studies in pre- and postmenopausal women have shown that a diet high in potassium can improve bone health. The study involving premenopausal women showed an eight per cent difference in bone density between women with high potassium intake and those with low potassium intake.Load up on potassium by eating sweet potatoes, white potatoes (with the skin on), yogurt and bananas.

MAKE EXERCISE A PRIORITY

Regular exercise is key to keep a number of health issues at bay, and bone health is no exception. In fact, living a sedentary lifestyle is considered a risk factor for osteoporosis. One study comparing bone density in college women with various body weights and activity levels found that athletes with low body weight had the highest bone density, showing exercise (and low body weight) can have a positive effect on bone density. Weight-bearing exercises like running, walking, jumping rope, skiing and stair climbing keep bones strongest. Resistance training has also been shown to improve bone health, so pick up the weights after going for a jog.

CONSUME LESS CAFFEINE

Caffeine does have some health benefits, but not for our bones. Too much of it can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium. One study showed that drinking more than two cups of coffee per day accelerated bone loss in subjects who also didn’t consume enough calcium. Another study (albeit on elderly women) showed that more than 18 ounces of coffee per day can accelerate bone loss by negatively interacting with vitamin D. So enjoy the java, but keep it in moderation and consume enough calcium, too.

COOL IT ON ALCOHOL

Heavy alcohol consumption can cause bone loss, though moderate consumption may help slow bone loss.

QUIT SMOKING

Here’s yet another reason to lose the cigarettes: multiple studies have shown that smoking can prevent the body from efficiently absorbing calcium, decreasing bone mass.

BONE CRUNCHING FAST FACTS

  • A newborn baby has 300 bones. Many of these fuse together as they grow, leaving an adult with 206 bones
  • Dinosaur bones were first found in Sussex in 1822 but it was not until 1841 that the word ‘dinosaur’ was coined by Sir Richard Owen
  • A quarter of our bones are in our feet
  • The femur, or thigh-bone, is the longest bone in our body; the smallest is the stirrup-shaped stapes bone in the middle ear
  • The upper lip bone of a blue whale is the largest bone ever known
  • The ancient Greeks and Romans used sheep knucklebones as dice
  • A dry bone is never licked — Albanian proverb
  • In 2007, at an auction in Beverly Hills, a four-and-a-half-foot-long fossilised walrus baculum (penis bone) was sold for $8,000 (Dh29,360)

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