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How strong are your bones?

published: 11-19-2010

We don’t give much thought to our skeletal systems until we do something that results in a broken bone. But bones play a vital role in a person’s general health and fitness. Our bones support us, allow us to move, and protect our vital organs from injury. They also store minerals—such as calcium and phosphorus—that are released into the bloodstream when our systems need them, for example, for muscle contractions.

Bone loss usually occurs gradually over a long period of time. By taking steps now to maintain healthy bones, you could ward off medical conditions such as osteoporosis.

One way to maintain optimal bone health is to eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin D. Without enough vitamin D, the body cannot absorb enough calcium from the foods we eat. This causes calcium to be taken our bones, which prevents the growth of new bone and results in weaker bones.

Good sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products, nuts and seeds, beans, broccoli and other leafy green vegetables, and fortified products such as orange juice that have added calcium. Good sources of vitamin D are egg yolks, fatty fish, beef liver, and milk with vitamin D. We also make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to the sun, although not everyone is able to get enough vitamin D this way.

Another way to keep your bones strong is to engage in physical activity. The best exercises are the strength-building and weight-bearing kinds such as walking, climbing, lifting weights, and dancing.

Other ways to maintain bone health include preventing falls by reducing the risk factors that you can control. Improve your balance and strength through exercise, maintain good vision, and make sure that your home is free of “falling dangers” such as poor lighting and loose rugs. Risk factors such as smoking, alcohol, medications, and body weight are also controllable. Smoking cigarettes, like vitamin D deficiency, can keep your body from using the calcium in your diet. Alcohol and certain medications (glucocorticoids, for example) also can cause your bones to become weak or lose mass. Moreover, being too thin increases one’s risk of developing weak bones that are more likely to break. If necessary, boost your diet with calcium and vitamin D supplements. Also consider talking to your physician about your bone health.

You may have heard again and again how important calcium and vitamin D are. Maybe you’ve even taken some or all of the steps above. But if you haven’t, start now and take action! Eat the right foods and exercise for strong bones.