While you may think you're years away from having to think about bone health, I'm here to tell you that taking care of your bones isn't solely about preparing for the future; it matters now. By age 18, nearly 90 percent of your adult bone structure is solidified. By age 30, the chance of making any further enhancements to your bone density is slim.
Fortunately, your nutrition and exercise habits can have a profound impact on helping to maintain the bone strength you have and maximizing every opportunity for adding strength.
Solidify the foundation of your frame today by incorporating the right nutrition and training strategies!
Calcium: The Backbone of Bone Health
Your bones are alive and constantly remodeling. This occurs via the removal and addition of bone tissue, a process referred to as bone turnover. Assuming you're getting adequate nutrition and exercise, your body consistently adds more bone material throughout childhood, and even up until age 30.
It's around this age, however, that bone turnover begins to net a negative outcome. But lifestyle and nutrition choices may help support the health, density and strength of your bones.
As you can imagine, if you never actually hit your peak bone density, you're at further risk. In fact, research published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that 22-50 percent of female athletes have osteopenia (sub-peak bone density).
Given that 99.5 percent of your bodily calcium stores are within your bones, it makes sense that calcium plays an integral role in optimizing bone strength and formation. To help support bone health, Martha Pyron, MD, a sports medicine specialist with Medicine in Motion in Austin, Texas, recommends women aim for a minimum of 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day.
Calcium-rich foods include all dairy products (think milk, cheese, yogurt), as well as cruciferous green veggies (broccoli, bok choy), soy products (tofu, seitan, edamame), and kidney beans. If you don't eat enough of these foods daily, consider supplementing with calcium to help meet your daily goal.
When selecting a calcium supplement, choose calcium carbonate or citrate. These two options are better absorbed by the body than other options.
Vitamin D: Calcium's Helping Hands
Vitamin D may help promote bone strength by facilitating increased calcium absorption. Unfortunately, few foods contain enough vitamin D to give you all you need.
The good news is that sunshine is the best source of vitamin D. When the UVB rays from the sun contact your skin, they initiate a cascade of reactions that convert the vitamin D precursor molecule in your skin, 7-dehydrocholesterol, into a useable form of vitamin D known as calcitriol. It's calcitriol that works in a hormone-like fashion to increase production of calcium-binding proteins, and ultimately, calcium absorption.
If only getting out in the sun were enough to make this happen! Lifestyle, geographical location, skin pigmentation, and sunscreen use all impair the absorption of necessary UVB rays to drive this formation. As a result, most of us are vitamin D-deficient. Hence Dr. Pyron's recommendation to supplement with 800-1,000 IU of vitamin D per day.
To optimize absorption, select a vitamin D-3 supplement, also known as cholecalciferol. This form beats the pants off of vitamin D-2 when it comes to absorption.
Resistance Training: The Finishing Touch
Working out with weights can further enhance your bone strength and preservation. That's because resistance training provides a direct stressor to your bones. To adapt to such a stress, your body increases the production of cells responsible for laying down new bone material. As a result, bone density can be maintained or even enhanced.
Try incorporating weight-bearing exercises at least 2-3 times a week. Push-ups and bodyweight squats work great as well, along with any other move that loads up your frame and makes it work. Jumping rope, walking, and jogging are also great for maintaining bone-mineral density.
Bottom line: Stay active, stay healthy, stay strong—and your bones will thank you!
- Teegarden, D., Proulx, W. R., Martin, B. R., Zhao, J., Mccabe, G. P., Lyle, R. M., ... & Weaver, C. M. (1995). Peak bone mass in young women. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 10(5), 711-715.
- Stand, P. (2007). The female athlete triad. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39(10), 1867-82.
- Tsiaras, W. G., & Weinstock, M. A. (2011). Factors influencing vitamin D status. Acta Dermato-Venereologica, 91(2), 115-124.