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Bones: Here to Support You

By Michelle Dix , UMES Dietetic Intern at SU

Many of you may be thinking if you drink milk and exercise regularly, you are not at risk for developing bone disease. Did you know that bones are living tissues just like our muscles? Bones give us structure and support, protect our internal organs, and act as a reservoir for minerals and stem cells. However, many factors affect one's risk of developing bone disease. This article will address the following factors that affect bone health:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Physical activity
  • Diet and gut health

Gender and Age

Bone health is crucial for ALL stages of life. The bone mass we have later in life depends on the bone mass built during our childhood to mid-adult years. During adolescence and early adulthood, we are in the bone-building stage. After we hit our peak bone mass, the dynamic changes to maintaining our bones. So, start caring for your bones today for a better tomorrow.

The size of bones varies based on gender. Men naturally tend to have larger and stronger bones compared to women. Men who are older and have lower levels of testosterone are at risk for osteoporosis.

Women are at greater risk for osteoporosis because they have less bone mass compared to men in addition to the hormonal changes that occur during menopause. Women have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis if they experience menopause before 45 years old, have a full hysterectomy, or have had absent mensural cycles from too much exercise or chronic dieting.

Keep reading to learn how we can keep our bone health in check!

Let’s Get Physical

Typically, when we think of physical activity, we think of burning fat and building muscle; however, exercising also helps maintain and strengthen our bones. So how does physical activity strengthen our bones? Exercising stimulates our bone-forming cells, which increases bone density and strength. Research suggests that weight-bearing exercises are effective in building strong bones and that exercise overall helps with coordination and balance. Exercise also reduces the risk of falls and fractures. Having a sedentary lifestyle puts individuals at an increased risk of developing bone disease, so get moving!

Examples of weight-bearing exercises.

  • Walking
  • Hiking
  • Jogging
  • Climbing stairs
  • Playing tennis
  • Dancing
  • Lifting weighs
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi

Nutrients Needed for Healthy Bones

There are several nutrients that our body requires to develop healthy bones. One of the most talked about is calcium. Calcium is essential for normal bone growth and development along with many other important functions. Calcium-containing foods include dairy products, leafy green veggies, tofu and edamame, almonds, canned sardines and salmon with bones and calcium-fortified plant-based milks and orange juice.

Calcium is often associated with vitamin D. Why? Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium in the gut. Individuals that have insufficient levels of vitamin D are at an increased risk of developing fractures and bone diseases. Vitamin D deficiency is commonly seen in people who have darker skin due to a lower level of conversion in the skin.

The best dietary sources of Vitamin D are fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and trout. Beef liver, egg yolks and cheese have small amounts of vitamin D. Foods fortified with vitamin D include dairy products, some plant-based milk, breakfast cereals and some orange juices.

We also get vitamin D from sunlight, so have some fun in the sun! Sunscreen limits our vitamin D production; however, health experts recommend using sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more when out in the sun for more than a few minutes.

Another vitamin that is good for bone health is vitamin K. Vitamin K is important because it helps with creating bone structure and stability for your bone matrix. Research suggests that poor vitamin K intake is associated with low bone mass and an increased risk for fractures. Sources of vitamin K are leafy greens, meat, cheese, eggs and some fruits, including blueberries and figs. Bacteria in our large intestine also make some vitamin k

Gut and Bone Health Support

Did you know that the gut is one of the largest organs in the body? Research suggests that our gut affects the absorption of minerals needed for healthy bones. Keeping our gut happy and healthy with foods rich in prebiotics, fermented foods, and cultured foods also keeps our bones healthy. Read How to Make Your Belly Happy to learn more about building a beneficial microbiome.

Mediterranean Eating

The Mediterranean diet includes all the foods and lifestyle practices we’ve touched on. It focuses on whole grains, fruits, veggies, beans, herbs, spices, nuts and healthy fats while consuming smaller portions of meat, dairy products and sweets. Other core concepts of this diet include being physically active and having social connections. This diet recommends the following tips:

  • Use olive oil as a primary source of added fat.
  • Enjoy fish twice weekly.
  • If you eat meat, have smaller portions, perhaps 3-4 ounces.
  • Include meatless meals.
  • Increase your whole grains.
  • Choose water as your main beverage over sugary beverages.
  • Include a moderate intake of wine, 1-2 for men and 1 for women.
  • Increase enjoyable physical activities.

Although this diet recommends wine, having too much wine or alcohol can negatively affect our bones. Remember, everything is good in moderation. This concept should also be applied to caffeine, coffee, tea and soft drinks that can deplete our bone density.


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