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Health & Wellness

How to build and maintain strong bones

Osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become weakened and brittle over time, affects millions of people across the globe. The International Osteoporosis Foundation says an osteoporosis-related fracture occurs roughly once every 3 seconds, accounting for more than 8.9 million fractures a year.

Younger individuals typically heal from fractures more quickly than older adults, who often discover that fractures greatly impede their mobility and quality of life.

Bone health is important at any age, but it is particularly crucial as a person gets older. Without a strong framework of bones, the body collapses on itself and rates of fracture increase. Fortunately, there are several ways to keep and maintain strong bones.

Bones are largely made up of a protein called collagen, which is bound together by calcium and other trace minerals. Vitamin D and calcium work in concert, with vitamin D helping the body to absorb calcium so it can find its way into bones. Experts advise getting the right ratio of calcium, protein and vitamin D to safeguard against osteoporosis. The Institute of Medicine suggests that adults get between 600 and 800 international units (IUs) of vitamin D every day, and between 1,000 and 1,300 milligrams of calcium daily. Dairy products, such as low- and nonfat milk, yogurt and cheese, are high in calcium. Dark green vegetables and almonds contain calcium in smaller amounts. Obtaining calcium and vitamin D through natural sources is always preferable, but doctors may suggest supplementation if foods are not providing what a person needs to meet the minimum recommended levels.

Exercise is another important component of building strong bones. The National Osteoporosis Foundation says 30 minutes of exercise each day can help. Higher-intensity exercises should be mixed with lower-intensity workouts for the best results. Weight-bearing exercises, such as hiking, dancing and stair-climbing, can build between 1 and 3 percent of bone. An exercise regimen also should include lifting weights or using resistance bands.

Activities that promote good posture and flexibility can help improve balance and alignment of the body. Perform stretches smoothly and slowly after exercising to maintain your range of motion.

Quitting smoking also can promote strong bones. Smoking has been linked to poor skeletal health in both men and women, and the longer one smokes, the greater one's risk for fracture.