Bolster Your Bones
Although it can strike at any age, osteoporosis typically occurs in older people, and women are four times more likely than men to be affected. As for race—white, Asian and Hispanic women seem to be most at risk. Obviously, if you have a family history of the disease, you'll also be at increased risk. Doctors can run a bone density test to determine if you have osteoporosis or an early form of the disease called osteopenia.
But you don't have to accept your bone density destiny. Improve your odds with this diet and exercise program for healthier bones.
Bones are similar to muscle—the more you work them, the stronger they become. You can give your bones a workout by doing weight-bearing and resistance, or strength training, exercises. Weight-bearing exercise requires you to support your own weight during the activity. This includes walking, jogging and jumping. Swimming and bicycling while seated, however, are not weight-bearing. These activities help slow bone loss.
If you already have osteoporosis, the higher-impact exercises might not be appropriate because they can fracture bones. You may have to go with a lower-impact workout. Resistance training—working with weight machines, dumbbells, fitness bands or even your own weight—also helps maintain bone density and offers another benefit: It maintains or increases muscles mass, which further protects bones. Plus, stability and body awareness also improve with strength training: When you step off the curb and stumble, your muscles, along with your joints and connective tissues, can help you regain your balance so you don't fall.
While any exercise is better than no exercise, it is best to participate in a variety of physical activities including both weight-bearing aerobic exercises and resistance training. A varied program helps improve muscle development and strength, as well as improve impact on bones. Look to diversify your program and reap the most benefit by using as many different muscle groups as possible.
A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D has been shown to help reduce your risk for osteoporosis. Calcium is critical not only for creating bones in childhood, but for maintaining them throughout life. And vitamin D is needed to help your body absorb the calcium.
Vitamin D-fortified milk—including skim and 1 percent—is a good source of both calcium and vitamin D. Many soymilk varieties are also good sources of D.
You need 1,000 mg of calcium per day up to age 50, and 1,200 mg after that. For vitamin D, the recommended daily level is 200 IU for men and women age 30 and younger; 400 IU for people ages 31 to 50; and 600 IU from age 51 and older. However, many experts think the numbers are too low and are evaluating the research. New recommendations may emerge in coming years.
Other calcium-rich picks include:
- Reduced-fat cheddar, Swiss or Jack cheeses—1.25 ounces contains 350 mg or more
- Orange juice with added calcium—1 cup contains 300 mg
- Sardines—a 3.75-ounce can contains 351 mg
- A calcium supplement may be a good idea if you're lactose intolerant or don't eat enough calcium-rich foods. Aim for a 500-mg supplement daily if you get one calcium-rich food per day, or 1,000 mg daily if you eat no calcium-rich foods. If you're 50 or older, you should add an extra 500-mg supplement to this recommendation.
Michelle Hering, M.S., is the fitness expert at TheBestLife.com. For more on healthy eating, check out TheBestLife.com.
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