Our bones do some amazing things. They support our bodies, allowing us to move freely, while protecting our internal organs from injury. Bones are living structures. Throughout our lives, our bodies rebuild our bones, replacing old cells with new. For the most part, we don’t even think about our bones until injury or illness affects us. Yet our lifestyle choices can make the difference between strong and healthy or weak and brittle bones.
The path to healthy bones starts even before we are born. During pregnancy, babies get the calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients needed for building bones from their mothers. This is why it’s so important for pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding to increase their intake of these essential nutrients.
Babies who are born prematurely or who are underweight at birth may need extra calcium, phosphorus and protein to help them catch up.
Children, teens need right start
Children learn their health habits from their parents. Parents need to teach children that they need to choose healthy foods, including at least three servings of low-fat dairy products every day. In addition to milk, this can include cheese, yogurt, low-fat ice cream and other calcium-rich foods. Exercise also plays an important role in developing strong bones. Children should get at least one hour of physical activity every day.
From the ages of 9 to 18, children begin a phase of rapid growth, which means their bodies are quickly adding bone mass and these nutrients are crucial at this time of development. When teenagers don’t get the calcium and Vitamin D their bodies need for growth, they are creating problems that will last throughout their lives.
During the teenage years, boys and girls need 1,300 milligrams of calcium each day, or at least four servings of dairy products or other foods rich in calcium and Vitamin D. Teens, like children, should get at least one hour a day of physical activity such as running, walking, skateboarding, sports or dance. Doctors caution parents that they need to make sure teens aren’t going to extremes in exercise. Over-exercising, especially if combined with under-eating, can
weaken bones and may cause other health conditions.
Maintaining bone health
As we become adults, we still need to help our bones stay strong. Adults need between 1,000 and 1,200 milligrams of calcium and at least 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise each day. Strength training, such as working with weights or other resistance exercises, can help strengthen bones.
Women, especially while they are pregnant or during menopause, should talk to their doctors about ways to ensure healthy bones. During pregnancy, a woman’s body supplies nutrients the baby needs to develop, which increases the amount of nutrients a woman needs every day. When a woman goes through menopause, a decline in hormones such as estrogen puts bones at risk. Bone cells are more like the cells that line the uterus, which is why bone cells are negatively affected by the decrease in estrogen.
Women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. Estrogen deficiency is one significant cause of accelerated bone loss in women during and after menopause and is the major cause of bone fractures in post-menopausal women.
Never too late for our bones
Seniors still need to ensure they are getting enough calcium every day. Doctors are now recommending that seniors increase their intake of Vitamin D. After age 50, we need 400 International Units (IU) of Vitamin D per day and 600 IUs of Vitamin D after age 70.
Dr. Ryan Kissane is a family medicine physician at Brookwood Baptist Health, Primary & Specialty Care Talladega. He obtained his undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences from Florida State University and his medical degree from St. George’s University. He served as chief resident at Jamaica Hospital in New York City, which is an affiliate hospital of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Reach Dr. Kissane at (256) 362-3636.