Approximately 10% of women over the age of 50 will have weakened bones that are more likely to fracture, and research shows that maintaining healthy bones before menopause is one of the best ways to avoid future problems.
One of the most important steps to take now is to ensure you are getting enough calcium. This is especially important during pregnancy, since your body will take calcium from your bones to help your baby grow if your calcium intake is too low. And, breastfeeding can result in a 3-5% decrease in bone mass for many women. The good news is that bone loss that occurs during pregnancy and breastfeeding is usually temporary, with bone mass typically restored within several months. More good news: your body absorbs calcium better during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so what you consume now will really help keep your bones strong.
If you aren’t pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s still important to make calcium a priority. Low-fat dairy, sardines and salmon, dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, and calcium-fortified products such as juice and cereal are all great sources of calcium. Many of these products also contain additional vitamin D – which your body needs in order to absorb calcium. If your diet is lacking enough calcium-rich foods, consider a supplement that also includes magnesium and vitamin D.
Another great way to increase bone density is with exercise. In addition to the host of other health benefits, weight-bearing and resistance exercises will help strengthen your bones. Walking, hiking, racquet sports and dancing are all excellent options, but more gentle types of exercise such as tai chi and yoga are also very beneficial. The key is to find something that you enjoy and can continue to do in your 50s, 60s, and beyond.
Avoiding harmful habits now will also help protect your bones in the years to come. Multiple studies have shown that smoking and consuming too much alcohol are directly linked to thinning bones. The longer you have smoked, and the more cigarettes you smoke, the higher your risk for bone loss. And, if you should fracture a bone, it will take longer to heal if you are a smoker. For the sake of your overall health and well as your bones, you should stop smoking immediately. Enjoying a glass of wine on occasion is fine, but if you drink too much (more than two or three drinks a day), your body can’t absorb the calcium and vitamin D it needs to maintain healthy bones.
Osteoporosis – and the fear of fractures and falling – isn’t a normal and inevitable part of aging. The key to avoiding these problems is to take steps now to maintain your bone mass and stay healthy and strong. Your good habits today will pay off many years down the road when you can enjoy an active lifestyle and the bone strength to do everyday tasks without worry.