You may associate weak, brittle bones with people who are well into their golden years. So it might surprise you to learn most people reach their peak bone mass between ages 25 and 30. By the time we’re just 40, it starts to decline.
In the U.S., about 10 million people over 50 have osteoporosis, a condition when bones become fragile and brittle. Just over 43 million people have low bone mass, putting them at an increased risk for the condition.
“The time to take care of your bones is right now, before you start to experience signs,” said Jennifer Madden, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute (JOI). “Maintaining bone density is much easier than trying to regain it.”
Signs of bone loss include:
- Bones that break easily
- Stooped posture
- Loss of height
- Back pain
The most common conditions Dr. Madden sees related to weak bones are wrist, hip and spinal fractures.
While osteoporosis can’t be completely reversed, there are many lifestyle changes you can make to limit bone loss.
Who’s most at risk?
Although more women have bone loss, men still experience it. In fact, there are 2 million American men with the medical condition and 16 million more are at risk. It’s estimated half of women and one-quarter of men over 50 will experience an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime.
Post-menopausal women over 50 are at the highest risk because of a drop in estrogen, which can lead to porous, weak bones and osteoporosis. “Estrogen hormone therapy can help, but it’s not a magic pill,” said Dr. Madden. “Adopting a healthy lifestyle is your best defense.”
People with conditions including eating disordersy, Type 1 diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, celiac disease, asthma and multiple sclerosis are also more susceptible to osteoporosis.
Additionally, studies show being underweight may contribute to fragile bones due to a weakened immune system.
Make prevention a priority
So, what can you do to keep your bones healthy? Dr. Madden’s advice is basic: “Make sure you eat a good diet and exercise.” Well, we’ve all heard that more than a few times – but what type of food and exercise help most?
“Foods high in calcium and vitamin D promote bone health,” advised Dr. Madden. “Read food labels and look for items that are fortified with high amounts of these nutrients.”
Dr. Madden suggested cheese, yogurt, milk and even ice cream occasionally (sign me up!). “I may be the only doctor who says ice cream is good for you,” she laughed.
- Dairy products
- Oranges and orange juice
- Bread made with fortified flour
- Nuts and seeds
- Green leafy vegetables
Taking calcium supplements and vitamin D can help as well, but getting vitamins from food is more effective, according to Dr. Madden.
Move it or lose it
“Your bones are in a constant state of change,” explained Dr. Madden. “You are simultaneously losing and gaining bone, so you need to do exercises that promote growth.”
Weight-bearing exercises are best because they put stress on your bones and cause them to get stronger. Lifting weights is a good idea, but that doesn’t mean you have to become a bodybuilder.
“Any type of exercise helps – from yoga to going for walk,” said Dr. Madden. She said to find an exercise that works for you and stick with it. “Do all you can to make bone health a priority. It will help you enjoy life no matter your age.”