A healthy body breaks down old bone and replaces it with new bone. In some people, however, more bone is broken down than replaced due to a medical condition called “osteoporosis,” which causes bones to weaken and become more susceptible to breaking.
More than 10 million Americans have osteoporosis — and an additional 44 million have low bone density, putting them at risk of developing it, according to the Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation. As we age, our likelihood of developing osteoporosis increases.
But there’s good news: You can take steps to help you, or your loved one, build stronger and healthier bones.
Follow these tips:
Adopt a Bone-Healthy Diet
One of the greatest tools you can use for osteoporosis prevention is your diet. Fill your plate with healthy food rich in calcium and vitamin D.
Some examples include:
- Dairy products: Low-fat or non-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese are excellent sources of calcium.
- Fish: Salmon and tuna contain a good amount of vitamin D.
- Leafy greens: Kale, collard greens, and broccoli are rich in calcium.
- Fruits: Oranges and berries are good sources of vitamin C, which aids in calcium absorption.
To support bone health, it’s also important to know which types of food or ingredients to limit. Excess sodium, for instance, can cause your body to lose calcium and bone mass.
Check the nutrition label on the back of packaging. If the sodium content is 20% or more of the recommended Daily Value (less than 2,300 milligrams per day), it’s too high, per the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Try to find an alternative option that’s lower in sodium.
Regular physical activity is essential for strong bones.
Weight-bearing aerobic activities work directly on bones in the legs, hips, and lower spine. Walking and gardening are two options to consider. To progressively build stamina, aging adults can start by simply walking in place – which you can see demonstrated below by Dr. Suzana Simoes, Physical Therapist for Florida PACE Centers at Miami Jewish Health.
Strength training exercises using resistance bands or your own body weight can help support bone density, according to Mayo Clinic. Squats using a broom for stability are one example of a strength-training exercise.
Flexibility exercises can also be incorporated to move joints through their full range of motion and support strong muscles. After the muscles are warmed up, gentle stretching can be incorporated, such as a seated hamstring stretch.
Bone density tests also aid in osteoporosis prevention. One of the most commonly used methods for bone density testing is the dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan, an imaging test that measures your bone strength.
This type of bone density test:
- Measures bone loss as you age
- Assesses risk of fractures
- Aids in diagnosis of osteoporosis
Based on the results, your physician can suggest appropriate preventive measures. If you’ve already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, a bone density test can also monitor the effectiveness of your current treatment plan.
By adopting a bone-healthy diet, exercising regularly, and proactively getting health screenings, you can be your own best bone health advocate.
How Caregivers Can Help
There are several ways you can help your loved one keep their bones strong and healthy as they age.
- Provide healthy food: Think low-fat dairy, leafy green vegetables (like spinach or kale), fish, milk, and grains, per the National Institute on Aging.
- Avoid smoking: Second-hand cigarette smoke puts people at greater risk of experiencing osteoporosis.
- Track medications: Make sure they stay on schedule with any prescription medications to slow down bone loss or rebuild bone.
- Stay active together: Join them in their physical therapy exercises or cheer them on along the way.
The choices you make today can aid in keeping your body (and bones) healthy for years to come.