Many young adults likely don’t give much thought to their bone health, as they instead focus on other ways to maintain their bodies. However, consistently considering your bone health even in your 20s and 30s can give you a leg up when it comes to preventing osteoporosis in later years. Your bones are live, active tissue that can grow stronger or weaker, and they’re vital to your body’s functionality.
The skinny on your skeleton
When you stop and think about your body’s structure, it’s apparent how important your skeletal system is. Your bones are not only the scaffolding and frame for your muscles and organs - they are so much more.
Your bones protect your vital organs, such as your brain and spinal cord and your heart and lungs, from physical damage. Your flexibility and mobility are reliant on your skeletal system, as is your blood cell production, which occurs in your bone marrow. Your bones also provide storage for needed nutrients including vitamin D and calcium.
Although your bones are a unique material in your body, your skeletal system also includes your joints, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons, all of which contribute to your ability to move freely, and they all interconnect with your muscular system.
Aging and osteoporosis
Your bone density changes over time. Until about 25-30 years of age, bone density will continue to increase. From there to about age 50, your bone density will likely stay somewhat stable or decline slowly, as new material forms at a similar or slightly lesser rate as breakdown occurs. Osteoporosis, a disease resulting in weakened bones, is likelier to occur after age 50 when there is a higher rate of bone density loss, and injuries in those with osteoporosis have a higher chance of resulting in breaks or fractures.
Some factors in compromised bone health may include:
- Chronic conditions like arthritis or Lyme disease, or a family history of arthritis or osteoporosis
- Aging and normal “wear and tear” from use over time
- Past physical injuries such as broken bones or fractures
- Physical inactivity
- Inadequate levels of certain vitamins and minerals - such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium, and magnesium - in one’s diet or due to malabsorption
- Habitual smoking of tobacco and drinking alcohol
There’s a proverb that goes: “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” Similarly, even if you’ve never considered paying closer attention to your bone health, it’s a great time to start no matter your age!
6 ways you can support your bone health
- Be proactive - if you are worried about your bone health, talk to your medical care provider about how you can best mitigate any risk factors. They can also assist by checking your bone density, vitamin D, and calcium levels. Having expert advice on your side can go a long way towards prevention.
- Prioritize regular weight-bearing exercise - studies show that weight-bearing exercises can help to slow bone loss and may even generate bone growth. The mild stress of weight-bearing activity triggers an increase in the laying down of mineral deposits in your bones as well as osteoblast activity (the cells that help to form new bone). Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight, neither over nor under, is ideal when it comes to your bone health, so weight-bearing exercises like running, walking, hiking, tai chi, and yoga can be doubly beneficial.
- Summon your stamina - strength-building training can provide a radical increase in your overall fitness and bodily resilience, as well as benefits for your joint health and bone density. Improving strength in the areas of your body that don’t benefit from regular exercise can help with offsetting any age-related decline in bone strength.
Initiating a new routine with strength training doesn’t have to be daunting; you can start with simple exercises that work with your own body weight, such as using resistance bands. And, while weight lifting with free weights or exercise machines might seem intimidating, you can always choose the weight that is most suitable for your strength level.
- Keep your meals balanced - a diet rich in vegetables, which are nutritionally dense, and ensuring adequate protein are both excellent ways to support your bone health through your lifestyle choices. Getting as many vitamins and minerals as you can through your food can put you ahead of the curve when it comes to keeping your body nourished and strong.
- Calcium and vitamin D - you’re probably aware that calcium can contribute to bone strength, especially if you’ve ever seen an advertisement for dairy products! Calcium doesn’t naturally occur in the body, so it’s important to intake calcium through diet or supplementation. However, drinking a glass of milk alone won’t guarantee your bone health; fortunately, there are many other rich sources of calcium, especially in the plant kingdom.
Your body needs adequate levels of vitamin D for effective absorption of calcium, so these two essentials go hand-in-hand. Getting lots of calcium and vitamin D-rich foods in your diet is a good place to start, but if you’re in a higher-risk bracket for osteoporosis, consider chatting with your doctor about supplementing.
- Vitamin B12 - a lesser-known factor in bone health is vitamin B12. Studies show that lower levels of vitamin B12 may correspond to lessened bone density and a risk of osteoporosis.
Because vitamin B12 is essential for red blood cell production, preventing anemia, and maintaining healthy mental cognition, it’s an important one to include in your nutrition or supplement regimen, especially if you opt for a plant-based diet.
A B-complex supplement is a great option, especially for women, as the full range of B vitamins work together to support hormonal balance and metabolism. (Choosing a liquid B-complex supplement can offer optimal digestive absorption and potency, as well!)