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How to Keep Your Bones Healthy and Strong

Contributed by Valarie Latona

We’ve all heard of osteoporosis—the disease where bones become weak and more likely to break. While osteoporosis is more common in women, men can get it too, so it’s good to stay vigilant about keeping our bones healthy and strong.

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In fact, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, more than 40 million people in the United States have osteoporosis or are at high risk for the disease.1

It makes you ask: what’s going on? For many people, diet can be the key to unlocking healthy bones, but we often fall short on certain vitamins and minerals that play an essential role in building strong bones. Physical activity and strength training are also key factors in maintaining a strong skeleton and, when combined with the right nutrients, can have long-term bone benefits.

Vitamins for Building and Maintaining Bones

Calcium: Calcium is one of the most critical nutrients for bone formation, but how much calcium do you need?

  • If you’re 19 to 50 years old, you need: 1,000 milligrams a day.1
  • If you’re 51 to 70, you need 1,200 milligrams a day (for women) and 1,000 milligrams a day (for men).2
  • If you’re 71+ you need 1,200 milligrams a day for both men and women.3

You can get calcium from the dairy products in your diet, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, or from non-dairy sources such as broccoli, kale, fortified orange juice, and tofu, or from supplements if your daily consumption falls short.

Vitamin D: Our skin synthesizes vitamin D by absorbing UV rays from sunlight. But if you spend too little time outside or if your skin is naturally dark and can’t absorb UV rays, consider supplementing with a good multivitamin.4 Vitamin D helps you absorb calcium, so your bones can benefit from both of these nutrients. While very few foods contain vitamin D, some dietary sources include the flesh of fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) and foods fortified with vitamin D.5

Protein: Proteins comprise about a third of your bones. Bone tissue is active, and your body needs a constant supply of protein to support bone remodeling—the break down and build-up of bone tissue. Foods rich in protein include meat, seafood, eggs, soy, and dairy foods.

Phosphorus: Phosphorus is a mineral that lends strength to your skeleton. In fact, about 85% of the body’s phosphorus is found in bones and teeth. Phosphorus is abundant in high-protein foods, including yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, salmon, beef, and chicken.

Vitamin C: Vitamin C helps your body form collagen, a connective tissue that’s a structural component of your bones. Red bell pepper, orange juice, broccoli, strawberries, and kiwi provide vitamin C. Vitamin C is not stored in the body, so you need it every day.

Potassium: Potassium is part of every cell and it helps support bone health by counteracting the loss of calcium from bones in response to sodium in the diet. Potassium is found in nearly all foods, including meat and seafood, but is available in greater quantities in white and sweet potatoes, yogurt, orange juice, broccoli, milk, and bananas.

Magnesium: About half of all the magnesium in your body is associated with bone tissue. Magnesium is abundant in plant foods, including black beans, spinach, almonds, oatmeal, and yogurt.

 

Don’t Skimp on Strength Training

There’s another part of the bone health puzzle—and that’s strength training. The fact that most people don’t strength train in the United States, particularly as we get older, may partially explain why 10 million adults age 50 years and older have osteoporosis.1

Strength training—or weight-bearing exercise—stresses your bones (in a good way) and by doing so, increases bone density. How? Cells called osteoblasts are critical to maintaining your bone structure; when you do weight-bearing exercise, the osteoblasts lay down new bone tissue to strengthen the points where the bone is stressed. Do regular strength training (for different parts of the body), and the osteoblasts continue to reinforce the bone, over and over again.

You can add strength training* to your routine with body weight exercises, resistance bands, free weights, or weight machines at the gym. Always make sure you warm up for five to 10 minutes beforehand (to warm up the muscle, helping to prevent injury).

Choose a weight or resistance level that will tire your muscles after 12 repetitions. When you can do more than 15 reps without tiring, increase the amount of weight or resistance. And plan to do two to three, 20- to 30-minute sessions a week.

Bottom line: strength training—along with getting enough calcium and vitamin D—will help support your bones for years to come.

Contributed by Valarie Latona, former editor-in-chief of Shape and healthy living advocate.

‡ Note: Daily Values for Calcium on Centrum product labels are based on an RDI of 1,300 mg
*Be sure to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

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