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 cells. 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.
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
The good news is that it’s never too late to take care of your bone health. A 2003 study at the University of Arizona found that women between the ages of 45 and 65 who participated in a combination of weight-bearing and resistance exercises showed a 1 to 2 percent improvement in their bone mineral density after one year. According to the study, strength training and resistance exercises can slow or even reverse bone loss in healthy people.
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.