3 Easy Ways to Strengthen Your Bones
Photo: Ruven Afanador
Most people don't realize that the skeleton does more than anchor your muscles and protect your squishy organs. It actively contributes to your health by producing blood cells and storing calcium and phosphorus, two important minerals. But what really makes bones stand out is their ability to regenerate. Through a process called remodeling, your bones are constantly breaking down and rebuilding themselves, resulting in a completely new skeleton roughly every ten years. For many years, your body builds enough bone to replace what it loses—creating a sturdy scaffold of calcium, phosphate and collagen. But around age 35 to 40, bones begin to break down faster than they can be rebuilt, leading to decreased bone density and potentially, over time, osteoporosis. The good news is there are steps you can take to help your bones stay healthy.
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You already know that calcium is the poster child for building strong bones, but studies have shown that the nutrient doesn't do the body much good without its sidekick, vitamin D; calcium needs D in order to be sufficiently absorbed from the digestive tract. While some doctors recommend calcium supplements for bone health, the jury's still out on whether they're a healthy alternative (some studies have suggested they can harm the heart). I recommend consuming 1,000 milligrams per day through food. If you're not a dairy lover, don't worry: Kale, tahini and almonds are all surprisingly potent sources of the nutrient.
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Too much alcohol can decrease bone density, but interestingly, about one 12-ounce bottle of beer a day may actually have the opposite effect: Research has found that women who drank that much on average had greater bone mass than nondrinkers. Beer's bone-building power may lie in its high levels of dietary silicon and phytoestrogens—both of which may protect against bone loss.
When we were kids, we loved running and jumping. And recent research shows we should keep it up. The force from such high-impact activities actually sends a signal to your bone-building cells that it's time to get to work. In a 2014 study in the American Journal of Health Promotion, researchers measured the hipbone density of premenopausal women over the course of 16 weeks and found that those who twice daily jumped ten times with 30 seconds of rest between each jump showed significant gains in bone density compared with those who didn't jump at all. So get moving!
Bone density scans, which predict the risk of fractures and osteoporosis, are among the top 45 most overused tests and treatments, according to a 2012 report based on data from several medical societies. But screening may be warranted if...
You're 65 (Or Older). This is the age at which healthy women should first be tested, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. In younger women, the scan can pick up mild bone loss, potentially leading to unnecessary medication.
You Take Corticosteroids Regularly. This class of drugs, used to treat a range of conditions from arthritis to asthma, interferes with the bone rebuilding cycle, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
You Smoke. One review of more than 80 studies found that female smokers are 31 percent more likely to suffer hip fractures later in life.
Mehmet Oz, MD, is the host of The Dr. Oz Show (weekdays; check local listings).