Stand tall and proud and consider this: In many ways, our bones define who we are. They give us our size and shape, they also keep us moving and upright. We wouldn’t get very far without them – but when was the last time we did our bones a solid favor and investigated our bone mineral density or looked into foods for improving bone density?
Let’s start with what bone density is all about. Bones are living material that repairs and rebuilds itself. Bone density is the amount of minerals such as calcium that are found in a given section of your bones.
If we have low bone density, we can run into health problems like osteoporosis (when your bones become brittle and easily broken). This is especially important to be aware of as we age.
The bone density range is based on standard deviations from the average range of density. If you are “-1” or above, you are considered normal. If you are between “-1 and -2.5” you are at risk for developing osteoporosis. If you ae below “-2.5” you may have osteoporosis.
These standard deviations are based on a bone density scan and will vary depending on your age and sex. The only way to determine your levels of bone density is to have a scan done. The good news is, through technology you no longer have to break a bone before you can get a scan. We’ll talk more about a bone density scan later.
Knowing and maintaining a healthy range of bone density is essential to ensure your bones are strong now and will remain that way as you age. There are a lot of things you can do right now to help ensure that your bones have a healthy level of bone density.
Our bones, like the rest of the body, need a balanced diet high in vegetables, whole grains, beans, fruit, and some dairy.
The problem is, our Western diet doesn’t give us enough calcium, and has too few vegetables and fruit. Plus, we tend to pour on salt, and drink too much caffeine and alcohol. So you need to make some changes. Here are simple steps that will help us fight low bone density.
Add calcium to your diet: The amount of calcium we need can vary based on our age and sex, but the truth is, most of us are not getting enough. If you don’t know how much calcium you are taking in, check with your healthcare provider. Great plant sources of calcium include greens, beans, dried figs, and almonds.
Eat your veggies (and fruit): We should be eating five to seven servings of vegetables and two to three servings of fruit every day. If you aren’t at these levels (or even close), try tacking on a vegetable or fruit with every meal, or snack on these instead of something from a bag.
Cut back on salt, alcohol, and caffeine: One cup of coffee can be linked to a loss of up to two to three milligrams of calcium, and by adding salt and alcohol to the mix it can lead to even more loss of bone density. Like many things in life, moderation is the key here.
Quit smoking (or don’t start for that matter): There is a correlation between smokers and lower bone density. Research has found that women who stop smoking before menopause can dramatically reduce their risk of suffering a hip fracture versus those who continue to smoke. Smoking causes your body to make less estrogen, which protects the bones. For women, estrogen drops after menopause.
Increase your exercise: Physical activity can boost your chance of attaining peak bone mass and strength, and reduce the chance of fractures later in life. High intensity and strength-building exercises are best to help build bones. It’s important to know that gravity is your friend when it comes to building bones. Swimming and cycling are not as effective as running or jumping rope.
Maintain healthy magnesium and potassium levels: Magnesium is almost as important as calcium when it comes to building up density in your bones. You can get magnesium through leafy greens (a daily salad is a great habit). Potassium, while it does not play as big a part as magnesium or calcium, still is important in building bones. Bananas and potato skins are good sources for potassium.
Strengthen your muscles: Muscles help keep the bones stabile. Furthermore, performing weight-bearing exercises to boost muscles also creates stronger bones because the muscles pull on the bones, thus making them stronger. All you need is about 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercises in order to start improving bone health.
Other minerals and vitamins to build bones: The supporting cast for healthy bones includes vitamins D and K, along with boron, chromium, and zinc. Adding more greens and seafood to a diet can help you get what you need.
While we just listed some quick things you can do to help your bones, there are other steps you can take to make sure they are healthy. Ever wonder how a bone density test is done? Here’s your chance to find out.
A bone density test is done to see if you have osteoporosis, which causes bones to become more brittle and easy to break. A bone density scan uses X-rays to measure how many grams of calcium and other bone minerals are packed into a given section of your bones. The parts of your body that are most normally tested include your spine, hip, and forearm.
Taking the time to have a bone density scan is an excellent preventative step you can take to ensure that your bone density is in the normal range.
The strength of our bones will go a long way to determine our quality of life. This is especially true for us as we age. By making an effort to exercise and eat the right foods for improving bone density and taking in the right minerals, we can help reduce the risk of brittle bones in our later years.
Start making some lifestyle changes now to build your bone density and keep active.