Understanding Bone Mass
Our bones are a living framework that both gives our body structure and protection.
As we age through childhood into adulthood, our bones grow with us and become stronger. By age 25-30, our bone mass is considered to have reached “peak bone mass,” the age at which our bones have attained its maximum strength and density.
Just like any living tissue, it grows and changes constantly as new cells are made and old cells replaced. When the rate at which cells are lost exceeds the rate at which new cells are being produced, our bone density decreases, leading to more fragile bones – a medical condition known as “osteoporosis.”
A worldwide pandemic.
Across the world, osteoporosis is the cause of more than 8.9 million fractures per year. That’s a fracture from osteoporosis every 3 seconds.
In the United States alone, nearly 44 million people either already have osteoporosis, or have low bone mass prone to osteoporosis. This group of people represent 55% of individuals aged 50 and older.
Between age 30 to menopause, there is little change in a woman’s bone density. However, women can expect a spike of rapid bone loss in the first few years after menopause. In many women, this rapid loss can lead to osteoporosis.
“Between age 30 to menopause, there is little change in a woman’s bone density.”
Although our genetics area large deciding factor in the strength of our bones, other environmental factors account for up to 25% of our total bone mass.
Of these factors, our nutrition and exercise can have a huge part in dictating the health of our bones.
Nutrition. You’ve heard it before, calcium is an absolute essential for healthy bones. It’s so important that if you don’t get enough of it when you were young, it could have significant effects on your peak bone mass, putting you at greater risk for a hip fracture when you are old.
In addition, the presence of vitamin D is also essential for the absorption of this calcium. The best way to obtain this is to go outside and be exposed to moderate sunlight.
Exercise. Yes, encourage your kids to play sports and develop and maintain their athleticism. Studies show that those who exercise regularly when younger tend to achieve greater peak bone mass than those who don’t. As adults, regular exercise can actually prevent bone loss. In particular, weight training is the best exercise to strengthen your bones. Weight training also includes any activity in which you must work against gravity, including walking, running, hiking, climbing stairs, martial arts, or tai chi.
Swimming or cycling, on the other hand, are not considered to be very effective weight-training exercises, as they do not strain the skeletal system with enough impact.
Tobacco & Libations. Smoking cigarettes and alcohol consumption have been shown to lead to lower bone density and higher risk of fractures as the individual ages. For men, especially those who have been heavy drinkers for a long time, have the highest increased risk of vertebral and hip fractures. The simple answer: stop smoking and heavy alcohol consumption.
When to see a doctor.
Osteoporosis is often known as a silent disease, as its symptoms are not immediately noticed; weakening bones typically go unnoticed until one is fractured or broken. One tell-tale sign could be getting shorter, or noticing a curve developing in the upper back. You should consult a doctor if you observe height loss or curving of your spine.
Works cited and additional resources: