How to Improve or Prevent Osteoporosis with Nutrition and Exercise

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How to Improve or Prevent Osteoporosis with Nutrition and Exercise

While aching bones are often a sign of growing old there is a much more serious cause that plagues both men and women, especially those over 50 years of age.  In fact, in the United States, one out of five women over 50 will be diagnosed with Osteoporosis, the bone-thinning condition that can lead to pains in the back and neck, along with breaks and fractures.  Studies also report that bone loss from Osteoporosis can also result in a decline in height of up to 5 inches over time.  

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that happens when the body makes too little bone or loses too much bone.  When this occurs, the bones become weak and fragile, allowing them to fracture very easily.  The bone actually becomes porous, resulting in holes and spaces within the bones itself.  Those with this condition show diminished bone density and mass, as well as abnormal tissue structure.  All of which play into the increased risk for aches, pains and fractures. 

The best defense against developing Osteoporosis is to take proactive measures to prevent the development of this disease.  It is very important to be aware of your family history when it comes to this condition, as it has been found to be hereditary.  This will allow you to start early on in its prevention, especially since we only make bone until we are 30 years old.  Along with that there are many ways to go about both warding off the development and progression of this disease.  

While people often assume that it is all about diet, that is not correct.  Yes, in fact diet does play a significant role, but when it comes to the prevention of Osteoporosis exercise also plays an important role.  The recommendation is to exercise about 5 days a week, for about 30 minutes.  Additionally, it is important to not only participate in aerobic exercise, but in strength training as well, perhaps on alternating days.  Strength training exercise requires that one work against additional weight, which can include: push-ups, free weights, resistance bands or use of strength training machines. Some of the weight-bearing exercises to consider are: walking, jogging, jumping rope and even stair climbing.  Studies have also shown that a daily yoga routine can help to increase bone mineral density in the spine, thigh and hips.  

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Being sure to take in adequate amounts of calcium are also critical to preventing Osteoporosis.  According to the National Institutes of Health, adults should be taking in 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily, with 1,200 milligrams for women over 50 and men over 70 years of age.  Calcium can be found in kale, spinach, sardines or rainbow trout, white beans, soybeans and calcium fortified foods like orange juice and cereal.  While a proper diet can provide this amount, supplements can also provide the body with calcium to meet its needs.  It is important however to remember to take these supplements along with vitamin D. The vitamin D aids in the bodies ability to absorb, retain and use the calcium.   Exposure to the sun is what triggers the production of vitamin D in the body but it can also be found in fortified foods such as milk, orange juice and breakfast cereal. 

Since research has long revealed a link between high sodium intake and bone loss, it is recommended that salt intake be limited.  Taking in high amounts of sodium tends to increase the amount of calcium found in the urine and sweat, which can result in bone spurs.  Those diagnosed with high blood pressure often have higher calcium levels found in their urine.  For others, this can also be a result of an inherited metabolic condition.  Regardless, trying to limit excessive salt intake can be effective in the prevention of Osteoporosis. 

Another culprit for causing bone loss is the consumption of soda.  There are several thoughts about why soda can be detrimental to bone health.  First, rather than reach for a snack that offers calcium and vitamin D, one might instead choose soda, which is devoid of these nutrients.  Additionally, caffeine has been found to inhibit calcium absorption and many sodas are loaded with caffeine.  There is also concern that the phosphoric acid in soda may be to blame.  While phosphorus is an important bone mineral, there is concern that taking in an unequal amount of phosphorus as compared to calcium, can increase bone loss.  Due to all of this evidence with regard to soda, it would be advantageous to cut back or eliminate soda to protect your bones.  

When it comes to alcohol consumption, there are pros and cons.  Studies have shown that up to two drinks a day may have a protective effect on the prevention of fractures.  But at the same time consuming excess of two drinks can dramatically reduce the absorption of calcium and reduce hormones that are involved in the production of bone.  The bottom line is you can continue to enjoy a drink or two, but watch your limits. 

Adding additional fruits and vegetables to your diet will also allow for your body to take in a plethora of bone-friendly nutrients.  The nutrients your body will benefit from include calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K and protein.  There is no doubt that choosing a variety of salads, vegetables, fruits and edible plants will help in the prevention of Osteoporosis. 

Fermented foods that contain probiotics have long been associated with heath benefits, and among them is the role they can play in the prevention of Osteoporosis. Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir and kimchi, have been found to have a positive effect on bone.  Having healthy gut microbes, from the consumption of these foods, has been shown to improve bone density.

So while one cannot totally stop the aging process, it doesn't mean we should just sit back and wait for aches and pains to settle in.  In fact, by starting early, there are many things we can do to prevent the development and ward off the progression of Osteoporosis.  You might just start by trading in your soda for more nutrient dense option and perhaps pick up the dumbbells or sign up for a yoga class.  From there on in, you will be well on your way to protecting your bones and avoiding unnecessary aches and pains down the road.  

Written: by M Mittler, MS Registered Dietitian