Want better bones? Stomp, jump, plank, lift, strain, dance, and run

Yes, that sounds a little like roll call at Snow White’s gym—but it may also be a good way to protect your bones as you age.

Let’s talk bones.

bone loss

Did you know your bones are alive? Bones are living tissue, constantly being broken down and remade. The inside of your bones looks like honeycomb, porous and webbed. The bigger the holes of the honeycomb, the more fragile your bones become.

When bones are too porous, that’s osteoporosis—literally, “porous bone”—and half of women and a quarter of men over 50 will break a bone because of it. Because having your cast signed at 60 isn’t nearly as much fun as when you were 15, it’s important to do what you can to keep your bones healthy.

According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging, some people are more at risk than others for osteoporosis. If you fall into any of these categories, you should pay special attention to your bones.

Risk factors for osteoporosis

If you…

  • Are a woman (especially of menopausal age)
  • Are small and thin
  • Are of Asian or Caucasian descent
  • Smoke
  • Drink alcohol excessively
  • Have a parent or close relative with osteoporosis
  • Don’t get enough calcium or Vitamin D
  • Don’t exercise
  • Have certain medical conditions, such as celiac disease, diabetes, or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Take certain medications including some antidepressants, antiseizure medications, steroids, and acid blockers

…be sure to talk with your doctor about appropriate measures to keep bones healthy.

Sometimes being “dense” is a good thing

We build bone faster in our youth. Bone density is at its greatest when we’re about 25 or 30; after that, bone loss starts to accelerate. During menopause as estrogen levels drop, bone loss speeds up, which is why women over 45 should pay particular attention to their bones.

Can we protect our bones as we age? Yup.

To protect your bones, do these:

  1. Get a BMD test. If you’re over 65 or have risk factors for osteoporosis, get a BMD. Because osteoporosis is painless, too many people discover they have the condition only after they’ve broken a bone. A bone mineral density or BMD test can determine if you have osteoporosis or an early stage of the disease called osteopenia. If you’re at risk, you can start taking preventative measures.
  2. Stay active. There is some evidence that certain kinds of exercise can help with bone density, says the National Osteoporosis Foundation:

Weight-bearing exercises (dancing, running, hiking, jumping) involve battling gravity and are usually high-impact (think of the constant slapping of your feet against the road as you run). You should probably avoid these if your BMD test indicates your bones are already weakened. Stair step machines and treadmills, as well as yoga and tai chi can be great, low-impact alternatives.

Muscle-strengthening exercise (lifting weights, pulling against resistance bands) may also help build bone. If you can’t lift or pull against a lot of weight, that’s fine—just boost the number of repetitions. As we put stress on our muscles and bones, the body responds by strengthening them and increasing bone density.

BONUS: With increased physical activity comes better overall strength and balance. Since falls are one of the leading causes of death for over-65s, improving coordination through exercise provides additional protection.

Swimming and cycling are not weight-bearing and may not provide bone protection. Do ‘em anyway, as they’re great cardiovascular exercise and help with balance, coordination, and strength, just add 20 jumping jacks or some weight lifting to your daily regimen as well.

  1. Eat really well and take supplements. Eat, like, really well. The green leafies (spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts) are high in calcium and Vitamin K. Salmon and sardines for the omega-3s, calcium, and Vitamin D. Potassium, magnesium, and Vitamin C can be found in abundance in the produce section of your grocery store. Check out the National Osteoporosis Foundation’s list of “Good-for-your-bones” foods as well as this delicious concoction by awesome Aussie and guest blogger, @BoredomBaker.
  1. Don’t smoke. Not even going to spend time talking about this except to remind you that smoking can drive you into menopause earlier, meaning you hit those primary bone-bashing years even sooner. We care about you. Please quit if you can.

Discuss these osteoporosis treatments with your doctor:

Some medical treatments for osteoporosis aren’t suitable for everyone, so before beginning any regimen, be sure to consult your doc. By the way, medical interventions don’t mean you don’t have to do all that stuff above. Your lifestyle has a huge impact on your physical and emotional health, so eat well, exercise, and don’t smoke anyway, ‘k?

  1. Take an osteoporosis medication. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the most common medications for men and women at risk of fracture are bisphosphonates like Fosamax and Boniva. These medications can be taken as a weekly or monthly pill or as a less-frequent injection. There may be some side-effects such as nausea and muscle aches. There is also a small risk of thigh bone fractures or affects to the jawbone from some osteoporosis meds, so talk with your doc and weigh the potential benefits and risks.
  2. Take hormones. Estrogen therapy can help menopausal women maintain bone density, but may not be appropriate for every woman, particularly those at higher risk of breast cancer or heart disease. Be sure your doctor knows all your risk factors (heredity, lifestyle, family history) so together you can make the safest choice for the healthiest future.

Keeping your bones healthy may take some extra effort as you age: less alcohol, more exercise, better diet. But, seriously, all those things can lead to a vastly improved quality of life for anyone, from young men to menopausal women.

Your challenge: Commit to improving just one thing on the “Do these” list above. Stick to it for one month, then meet us back here and let us know how it went.

Now, drop and give me twenty.

For more information on aging well and thriving in menopause and beyond, check out the National Council for Aging Care.

What are you doing already to protect your bone health? Share with the community in the comments below or talk to us on our Facebook page or in Midlife & Menopause Solutions, our closed Facebook group.


Shannon Perry

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