As we age, many people fall prey to bone loss and osteoporosis. Both of these conditions can cause bones to deteriorate and, eventually, may result in painful bone fractures. As it stands now, osteoporosis-related fractures are one of the leading causes of senior disability in the U.S. Fortunately, osteoporosis doesn’t have to be a part of the aging process and there are many ways that seniors and older adults can work to keep their aging bones strong and healthy as they age.
The Dynamics of Bone Density
For most people, bone mass levels peak at age 30 and begin to decline steadily afterward. Although bone remodeling continues to take place, people who are older than 30 lose more bone mass than they are able to build back. Bone loss rates are more pronounced in some people than they are in others and there are a variety of factors that affect how much bone mass a person will loose with age. These include factors the following:
How Much Calcium You Consume
People who eat a diet that is very low in calcium are likely to suffer more bone loss than people who eat a calcium-rich diet. Calcium deficiency can often lead to decreased bone density, premature bone loss and a higher risk rate for fractures and breaks.
Lack of Physical Activity
Physical activity is one of the most important factors for keeping bones strong and people who live sedentary lifestyles are likely to suffer bone loss and fractures at a higher risk than more active people.
Smoking or Drinking
Smoking cigarettes or consuming more than 2 alcoholic drinks each day greatly increases the risk of developing osteoporosis due to the fact that alcohol can interfere with the body’s ability to retain and absorb calcium. Similarly, tobacco products make it difficult for the body to transport nutrients to the bone, which makes them brittle and vulnerable to breaks.
As a general rule, women are at a higher risk for osteoporosis than men due to the fact that, on a genetic level, women have less bone tissue than men. Additionally, both women and men who have a body mass index of less than 19 have less bone mass, which means their bones may become brittle more rapidly with age.
Your family history and race both have a great deal to do with bone loss rates. People of Caucasian or Asian descent are at increased risk for developing Osteoporosis, as are people from all races who have an extensive family history of bone loss.
Hormones play a large role in bone loss rates. People with excessive levels of thyroid hormone will experience more bone loss, as will women experiencing reduced estrogen rates as a result of menopause. Additionally, women who suffer from amenorrhea and men with low or declining testosterone levels will suffer a loss of bone mass.
People who have been using a long-term corticosteroid medication or an anti-seizure medication may be at increased risk of bone loss due to the medication’s ability to interfere with the body’s dispersal of nutrients.
Preventing Bone Loss: What You Can Do
Although bone loss will inevitably happen as people age, it doesn’t need to be so severe as to lead to osteoporosis. Fortunately, there are many preventative measures seniors and aging adults can take to keep their bones healthy and strong all throughout life’s later years.
Nutrition is one of the most important parts of maintaining bone health. Specifically, people need to be sure to they are consuming enough calcium- and Vitamin D-rich foods in their diets. When it comes to calcium, women after the age of 50 and men after the age of 70 should be consuming 1,200 mg of calcium on a daily basis. Keep in mind that the best sources of any nutrient are generally whole food sources and people can find ample levels of calcium in foods such as dairy products (whole milk, yogurt, cheese), nuts, leafy greens such as kale, salmon and soy-based products such as tofu. If, after switching to a calcium-rich diet, you still find yourself low on the calcium intake, consider adding a calcium supplement to your diet.
Vitamin D, on the other hand, should be consumed at a rate of 800 international units (IU’s) per day for adults beyond the age of 71. Food sources of Vitamin D include egg yolks, tuna and Vitamin D-fortified milk. Additionally, spending time in the sun aids in the body’s production and synthesis of Vitamin D.
In addition to ensuring adequate nutrition, people who are concerned about keeping their bones strong should pay extra attention to exercise. When it comes to maintaining bone health and decreasing bone loss, there are two types of exercise that people should focus on. These include the following:
Weight-bearing exercises are particularly important for bone health and can actually help slow the bone deterioration rate in people already affected by osteoporosis. Weight-bearing exercises stretch and pull muscles and bones more than everyday activity and, thus, can help strengthen bones in the long-term. Great option for weight-bearing exercises for seniors and older adults include Tai Chi, Yoga, walking, golf, ballroom dancing, moderate hiking and racket sports such as tennis and squash. These activities all provide weight-bearing activity that allows the bones to adjust to moderate force and, in turn, become as resilient and strong as possible.
Muscle-strengthening exercises maintain muscle flexibility and condition and, as such, can actually slow the rate of bone loss and prevent related fractures. Generally, muscle-strengthening exercises include functional movements that involve lifting the body’s own weight. Forms of muscle-strengthening exercises may include utilizing elastic exercise bands, using free weights for low-impact workouts and using weight machines to build and maintain lean muscle. Additionally, people who suffer from joint pain or stiffness may find swimming helpful, as it is low-impact and also offers all of the muscle-strengthening, stretching and flexibility benefits of the above exercises.
In addition to adopting a healthy diet and ample exercise, people who want to prevent bone loss should also limit alcohol and stop smoking. These two changes alone will go a long way toward increasing bone health and limiting the risk of painful fractures.
Although bone loss is a reality of aging, osteoporosis doesn’t have to be. With these easy dietary and lifestyle changes, seniors and older adults can ensure that their bones stay strong, healthy and capable throughout all stages of life.