We worry about heart health, cancer, diabetes, and other health problems—but what about osteoporosis?
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones that is characterized by reduced bone mass and bone quality—or in layman’s terms: weaker, or deteriorating, bones. Osteoporosis increases the risk of fractures, notably at the hip, spine, and wrist—and this becomes a big concern as we age. In fact, one out of every two women over the age of 50 will break a bone in their lifetime due to osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is more common in women, especially after menopause when hormonal changes can contribute to bone loss. But osteoporosis doesn’t have to be inevitable—a few healthy habits can help you protect your skeleton and increase your chances of maintaining strong bones.
You may think that a daily glass of milk is your ticket to strong bones, but there are several ways to maintain strong bones—and milk is not necessarily one of them. Try these healthy habits:
- Eat calcium-rich foods: Dark leafy greens such as kale and chard are loaded with calcium. What’s more, they’re alkaline rather than acidic—and this is important because bones release calcium when the body needs to lower acidity levels. By eating more alkaline foods, you prevent the spike in acidity that leaches calcium from your bones.
- Take vitamins C and D: Although calcium usually gets all of the credit for bone health, vitamins C and D are essential for strong bones. Vitamin C helps build the collagen in bone. Vitamin D helps transport the calcium from our food into the blood so it can be deposited into the bones. Experts recommend 500 milligrams of vitamin C and 800 to 2,000 international units of vitamin D daily.
- Get moving: The best way to build strong bones? Use them! Weight-bearing exercise—exercise we perform while on our feet and legs that works the muscles and bones against gravity—has been shown to increase bone density and improve bone health. If you want strong bones, get moving and stay moving for life. Walk, run, dance, do yoga, lift weights, play tennis—just find something you enjoy and keep doing it.
- Lay off the milk: Milk sounds like a good idea because of its calcium content, but here’s the problem: it spikes the acidity levels in your bloodstream so the bones end up releasing calcium in order to mitigate the acidity. In other words, milk may actually speed up bone loss. You’re better off getting your calcium from dark leafy greens.
- Reduce sodium: Not all salt is bad. In fact, sea salt can be a healthy component of any diet. However, when you have too much sodium in your bloodstream, the kidneys have to work extra hard to clear it out. Part of that process involves calcium, which is—you guessed it—leached from your bones. Aim for no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day if you are healthy and 1,500 milligrams per day if you suffer from high blood pressure, kidney disease, or diabetes.
- Go easy on the medications: Of course, sometimes medication is necessary—and the best judge of that is your doctor. However, some medications can negatively affect bone health either by inhibiting the growth of bone cells or preventing calcium absorption. Discuss the bone effects of any medications you are taking with your doctor—and ask if there are any natural alternatives that won’t affect your bones.
- Don’t rely on calcium supplements: It’s tempting to pop a pill to meet our calcium needs, but some research has shown that calcium supplements are associated with an increased risk of heart attacks. What’s more—they aren’t as effective as food anyway. You’ll absorb twice as much calcium from kale as you will from a supplement.