When you hear the phrase “bone health,” you may think of an older woman with a broken hip. Maybe you picture an older man with a hunched posture struggling to get groceries into his car. While osteoporosis, a disease where the density and quality of bones diminish, is typically diagnosed after the age of 50—and can in fact mean broken hips and stooped backs—bone health isn’t just an old person’s concern.
Osteoporosis more commonly affects women, the weakening of bones can start young. A surprising 90 percent of adolescent girls don’t get enough calcium in their diet, and children and teens with low bone density are at higher risk for broken bones.
You can impact your bone health (positively or negatively) with the habits you develop and the choices you make today, whether you’re approaching retirement or can proudly claim millennial status. Here’s how.
No. 1: Get enough calcium & vitamin D
Calcium helps build bone tissue and keeps our bones healthy. Every day, we lose calcium and, since the body can’t produce it on its own—we must find it in our food. If we don’t get enough of the calcium our bodies need, it’s taken from our bones.
Dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese are excellent sources of calcium, along with leafy green vegetables like spinach. Try to get 1,000 mg per day, which can be met by taking calcium supplements or eating calcium-fortified foods as well.
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and build strong bones, preventing breaks as you age. Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, so spend time outside. It’s also found sparingly in foods, so eat more fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna, and look for juices and milks fortified with vitamin D.
No. 2: Get Your weight-bearing exercise
Getting the right kind of exercise matters when it comes to your bones. Weight-bearing exercise, which uses your body weight as resistance, helps strengthen bones and prevents fractures starting as young as in your teens.
These exercises include walking, running, playing tennis, dancing, yoga and weightlifting. Experts recommend 30 minutes or more a day, five days a week. Find a class at the gym, lift free weights at home or join a tennis league—all of these habits you can develop now will foster good bone health that can last a lifetime.
No. 3: Limit the risk factors that you can change
While some factors like sex, age, ethnicity and family history can influence your bone health, focus on the habits you’re able to change.
Smoking cigarettes is very damaging to your bones, not to mention your heart and lungs. Alcohol intake plays a role, too—excessive consumption of alcohol increases your risk of bone density loss and fractures. Certain medications also cause bone loss over time.
Additionally, studies have discovered links between sodas and low bone density, which can lead to bone fractures as teenagers. Adolescents and teens (and adults for that matter) should stay away from sodas, and replace them with water or fortified milk.
Osteoporosis is a preventable disease, and building strong bones from an early age is key to preventing it from impacting you. Take these simple actions to strengthen your bones now, no matter what your age.