Bolster Your Bones!
Women: What Your Bones Need to Be Healthy
Your bones provide the framework for your body. As a woman, you make less bone than your male counterparts and lose it faster, yet you will likely live longer. That means developing healthy lifestyle habits early on is important to keep your bones strong. In fact, building bone mass and strength in adolescence may be the best protection against osteoporosis later in life.
- And though women are at highest risk for osteoporosis, men are not risk-free. In fact, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 20 percent of those affected by this bone-weakening disease are men. So after reading this information and putting together your bone-strengthening plan, be sure to share your bone-health tips with your male friends.
What Is Osteoporosis?Osteoporosis, or "porous bones," is a disease that results in low bone mass, or density, which causes bones to become weak and fragile and more likely to break. One in two women over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in her lifetime (one in four men over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in his lifetime). Osteoporosis can result in decreased height, lost teeth and hip fractures, which can be life-threatening. An average of 24 percent of individuals age 50 and older who experience a hip fracture die within a year of their injury.
Simple Steps Today Build Stronger Bones TomorrowYou're probably asking yourself: Why does this matter now? Well, keep reading! You're young and, unlike older women who may be faced with frail bones and a less-than-active lifestyle, you have the benefit of time and (after reading this) the know-how to make sure your bones stay strong.
Bones are living, growing tissue. They are continually broken down and rebuilt (called remodeling). About 85 to 90 percent of bone mass is acquired by age 18 in women and age 20 in men. Up until around age 30, your body makes more new bone than it breaks down. But once estrogen levels start to decline, this process slows. During menopause when estrogen levels fall, the balance is tipped so bone breakdown outpaces buildup. Estrogen facilitates the bone-building process.
While the strength of your bones is partly predetermined by your genes, there are simple steps you can take now to help prevent bone loss or delay osteoporosis later in life.
Strengthening Your BonesEating a diet rich in calcium and getting regular physical activity are keys to maintaining and strengthening your bones. Nearly all of the calcium in your body is contained in your bones and teeth, adding strength and rigidity. Yet despite the clear benefits of calcium, women around your age:
- drink the least amount of milk
- are more likely to skip breakfast--a meal that tends to naturally provide a good source of calcium
- eat foods that have low density of calcium (e.g., fast food)
Skipping meals or replacing milk with nondairy drinks prevents calcium and nutrients from being properly absorbed. Alcohol consumption can deplete calcium in your bones, but a bigger threat to bone health is cigarette smoking.
A safe bet? Be sure to eat a well-balanced diet, exercise and look for ways to get more calcium.
Boosting Your Calcium IntakeHow much is enough?
Women's calcium needs change over time. Women between 11 and 24 years of age are in their "calcium-storing" years. That means you need to increase the amount of calcium you get, particularly before age 19. One survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found females 12 to 19 years old got an average of only 777 mg of calcium a day!
Recommended calcium intakes:
National Osteoporosis Foundation
|71 and older
Look at the back of food packaging for the calcium content. Keep in mind the percent Daily Value (%DV) set by the FDA is based on 1,000 mg per day, so you'll need to adjust based on your age.
Where Can You Find It?The primary sources of calcium are dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese. But you can find it in other foods, too. Non-dairy sources include calcium-fortified orange juice, leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, fish and some breakfast cereals. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Experts recommend taking 400 to 800 international units of supplemental vitamin D per day for adults ages 19 to 49. In addition, since vitamin D is manufactured in the skin following direct exposure to sunlight, getting 15 minutes of sunlight per day is a good idea as well.
Calcium supplements are another option. Calcium citrate and calcium carbonate are the most commonly used. Calcium carbonate should be taken with food, but calcium citrate can be taken any time. Make sure to read the label carefully and talk with your doctor.
Do Your Bones a Favor — Make Exercise a PriorityNot only is exercise important for maximizing bone health, it also helps you maintain muscle strength, increases coordination and balance and promotes overall health.
Focus on weight-bearing exercises, including lifting weights, running, jogging, tennis, climbing stairs and hiking. The impact created from these activities, during which your body works against gravity, helps build stronger, denser bones. What if you've never been an athlete? Not to worry. It's not too late to get fit and take preventive action. Take opportunities to exercise your bones while doing daily activities, like washing your car or carrying groceries.
It's Never too Early to AskDuring your next physical exam, ask your health care provider about ways to help prevent osteoporosis now. Here are some questions to ask:
- What are my risk factors (family history, body size, etc.)?
- Is there a way to measure the calcium in my body?
- Which weight-bearing exercises are most effective?
- How much exercise is enough?
- What calcium supplements would you recommend?
Osteoporosis is sometimes called the "silent disease," because there are typically no symptoms. Breaking a bone is usually the first sign. Although osteoporosis occurs most frequently in older women, it can strike at any age.
Just remember, it's never too early to bolster your bones.
- National Osteoporosis Foundation
- National Dairy Council
© 2013. National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. All rights reserved. All content provided
in this guide is for information purposes only. Any information herein relating to specific medical
conditions, preventive care and/or healthy lifestyles does not suggest individual diagnosis or
treatment and is not a substitute for medical attention.
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