Your 4-step plan for stronger bones at every age
Nobody wants to take a fall. But since not every slip or trip can be avoided, you want your bones to be strong enough to withstand a tumble. Maintaining healthy, resilient bones is easier than you think with these four simple steps.
Step #1: Add weight training for healthy bones
Daily exercise is key to your overall physical health — and that includes your bones. But for your skeleton to reap the most benefits, you want to make sure your fitness routine includes weight-bearing and resistance exercises, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
These two types of exercise help strengthen your bones because they work against gravity:
Weight-bearing exercises for bone health: Sorry, swimmers and cyclists, while your activities are great for your heart, lungs, and muscles, they don’t count as weight-bearing. What does? Think: hiking, jogging, yoga, climbing stairs, and dancing.
That doesn’t mean you need to get off the bike or out of the pool. It just means you need to supplement those activities with brisk walks, a friendly game of pickleball, or a few downward-facing dogs.
Resistance exercises for healthier bones: This type of movement is also commonly referred to as strength training. Lifting weights may automatically come to mind, but you can also use a range of fitness tools for added resistance, including bands, kettlebells, medicine balls, and cable machines.
And don’t forget that your very own body weight can be an ideal resistance tool. Some simple bodyweight exercises include planks, squats, wall sits, and lunges.
Blue Medicare Advantage members, make sure you take advantage of your SilverSneakers benefit. Order your kit here.
Step #2: Boost calcium to strengthen your bones
Low calcium intake is associated with osteoporosis, low bone mass, and high fracture rates. Women 51 and older need 1,200 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day, and men 51 and older need 1,000 mg to 1,200 mg of calcium per day.
Foods highest in calcium include:
- Dark, leafy greens, such as kale, broccoli, and bok choy
- Firm tofu
- Fortified foods like orange juice and cereal
- Salmon (fresh or canned)
- Sardines (fresh or canned)
If you don’t think you’re getting enough calcium through your diet, supplements are an option. According to the National Institutes of Health, here are the two main forms of calcium supplement:
- Calcium carbonate, which is best absorbed when taken with food
- Calcium citrate, which can be taken on an empty stomach or a full stomach (the stomach acid produced while eating can help your body absorb calcium citrate)
Calcium supplements are also better absorbed when taken in smaller doses (500 mg or less) at different times throughout the day. The daily upper limit for calcium in adults ages 51 and older is 2,000 mg. Ask your doctor about the right amount for you.
Step #3: Boost vitamin D to strengthen your bones
The body needs vitamin D to absorb all that calcium you’re adding to your meals. Low vitamin D intake is also associated with osteoporosis, low bone mass, and high fracture rates. People ages 51 to 70 need 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day, while those 70 and older need 800 IU per day.
Foods high in vitamin D:
- Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
- Ready-to-eat cereals
- Fortified orange juice
It can be hard for a lot of people to hit their daily vitamin D target through food alone. Ask your health care provider if you should have your vitamin D levels checked. They may recommend taking a vitamin D supplement.
These supplements can contain vitamins D2 or D3. The National Institutes of Health notes that the difference between the two is only in how they are manufactured and sourced. But vitamin D3 supplements have been found to increase levels of vitamin D more and maintain them in the body longer than D2. The maximum daily intake for vitamin D is 4,000 IU.
Step #4: Watch your alcohol use to protect bone health
Alcohol has a negative impact on bone health. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, drinking more alcohol than is safely recommended interferes with the balance of calcium in the body and is linked to osteoporosis. It may also interfere with the production of vitamin D.
The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting alcohol to two drinks or less a day for men and one drink or less a day for women. One drink equates to:
- 12 ounces of 5% alcohol by volume (ABV) beer
- 8 ounces of 7% ABV malt liquor
- 5 ounces of 12% ABV wine
- 1.5 ounces of 40% (80 proof) ABV distilled spirits, such as gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey
The effects of tobacco on bone health
Smoking and tobacco use are associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures. What’s more, smoking has been shown to make it harder for bones to heal after a fracture, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
Your health care provider can help you find a quit-tobacco program that works for you. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides helpful tools, tips, and resources for older adults at 60plus.Smokefree.gov.
Exercise and bone health: National Institutes of Health
Calcium and vitamin D: National Institutes of Health and NIH Office of Dietary Supplements
Calcium supplements: Mayo Clinic
Vitamin D: NIH Office of Dietary Supplements
Alcohol and osteoporosis: National Institutes of Health
Dietary guidelines on alcohol: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Tobacco use and bone health: National Institutes of Health
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