Building Better Bones

Certain lifestyle changes can help to protect and strengthen your bones, no matter what age you are. Here, in recognition of National Osteoporosis Month, our top tips for boosting bone health.

Osteoporosis is often referred to as “the silent thief” because bone loss occurs without symptoms. In fact, many people don’t know they have osteoporosis until a fracture occurs.

In Canada, it is thought that 80 per cent of all fractures are attributed to the disease. And in some cases, even mild stresses such as bending over or lifting a vacuum cleaner can cause a fracture.

Osteoporosis is often thought to be an inevitable part of aging, but this doesn’t need to be the case. Certain lifestyle changes can help to protect and strengthen your bones, no matter what age you are. Here, some tips for boosting bone health.

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Build stronger bones

Get your Calcium

Osteoporosis Canada recommends a daily calcium intake of 1200 mg for people over 50. While milk and dairy products such as yogurt and cheese continue to be an important source of calcium, foods beyond the dairy aisle can also provide valuable calcium.

Try adding almonds, broccoli, bok choy, cooked kale, canned salmon and sardines (with the bones), figs, oats and soy products such as tofu. Calcium can also be found in dried beans and legumes. A variety of calcium-enriched foods such as orange juice and soymilk are also readily available.

Get your Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a vital role in ensuring the body can absorb calcium from your diet and/or supplements. However, vitamin D deficiency continues to be a serious concern in Canada and around the world. Osteoporosis Canada recommends that people over 50 take between 800 International units to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily to help prevent osteoporosis. Vitamin D may also reduce other health risks such as diabetes and immune system disorders, the agency says.

Foods containing vitamin D are egg yolk, liver and fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines. It is also found in fortified foods such as some cereals, margarine and beverages such as milk and soymilk.

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Get regular exercise

Regular exercise, especially weight-bearing activities such as walking or jogging, is an important part of building and maintaining strong bones. And to maintain bone health (as opposed to reaping full cardiovascular benefits) you don’t need that much. In fact, some experts say that 20 minutes of walking 3-4 times a week should do it. Strength-training activities are also important for improving muscle strength and coordination.

And keep in mind that while exercise throughout life is important, you can increase your bone density at any age.

Get rid of the smoking habit

Smoking can increase bone loss. This can happen by possibly decreasing the amount of estrogen that a woman’s body makes and by reducing the absorption of calcium in the intestine.

Ask about a bone mineral density test

Doctors use a test called a Bone Mineral Density (BMD) scan to help assess whether a person has osteoporosis. In addition to BMD test results, a physician considers risk factors such as age, gender, fracture history, family history and steroid use to determine one’s 10-year fracture risk.

While, in general, people over 65 are recommended to have a BMD scan, if you are at higher risk or have a family history of the disease, you should have the test at around 50, experts say.

Treatment options

A number of medications are available for people with osteoporosis. Drug treatments can help to prevent further bone loss and reduce fractures. Experts say to discuss the various options with your doctor. The effectiveness, and possible side effects, of the medications vary by individual.


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Sources: APA; Osteoporosis Canada; Reuters Health; Archives of Internal Medicine; Osteoporosis Canada; The Mayo Clinic; The Harvard School of Public Health; the National Institutes of Health; ScienceDaily.