We are born with approximately 300 bones in our bodies, and over time some bones grow together leaving us with 206. Our bone-building years occur in childhood and as young adults. Peak bone mass, which is the greatest amount of bone an individual can attain, usually happens by the early twenties.
The higher our peak bone mass, the lower the risk for things like osteoporosis later in life. Consequently, how we live when we are young influences our bones when we are older.
Bone health is very important in avoiding issues such as osteoporosis and bone fractures. Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become weak and break easily. It is widespread and affects an estimated 75 million people in Europe, the United States and Japan alone.
Osteoporosis affects more women than men because women usually have smaller, thinner, less dense bones than men. Also, women often live longer than men, and bone loss happens naturally as we age. Women also lose more bone mass after menopause due to lowered levels of the hormone estrogen.
The body uses calcium to build healthy bones and teeth and stores calcium in our bones, but our bodies do not make calcium. So, you must get all the calcium your body needs from the foods you eat and drink or from supplements. If you don’t get enough calcium each day, your body will take the calcium it needs from your bones.
Vitamin D is also a very important component to bone health. Without vitamin D, our bodies cannot effectively absorb calcium.
Here are some other factors that may affect bone health and possibly increase the risk of osteoporosis:
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Eating disorders
- Excessive alcohol use
- Low body weight
- Health problems such as premature menopause, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease and depression
Here are some ways to promote healthy bones:
- Consume calcium regularly, preferably through food (ex. dairy, nuts, leafy greens, fish with soft, edible bones like sardines)
- Obtain vitamin D through sunshine, food and possibly a supplement
- Exercise regularly, especially weight-bearing exercises
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Get plenty of protein, fruits and vegetables in your diet
If you have any questions about your bone health, ask a medical professional. Your doctor may do a bone density test to see how strong your bones are, discuss supplements and check vitamin D levels. No matter your age, you can make lifestyle choices that have a positive impact on bone health.
This article is meant for information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Individuals should consult their health care providers to discuss health risks and preventative measures.
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