Why is Bone Health Important?

By Sarah Harper on Oct 18, 2016

You hear from your doctor all the time that you need to take care of your bones, but do you often wonder why its so important, especially as you get older? Our bones support everything we do in our daily lives, not only allowing movement, but keeping vital organs, such as the brain and the heart safe by acting as a protective barrier. Bones also act as a storage system for minerals like calcium and phosphorous, which keep bones strong and can be released into the body when needed for other functions. But what happens if we don’t take care of our bones? Without proper nutrition and exercise, bones can become weak and are prone to fracturing or breaking, plus you are more likely to develop the bone disease known as osteoporosis.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis means porous bones. When looked at under a microscope, healthy bones look like a honeycomb, and when osteoporosis occurs, the holes and spaces in the honeycomb grow in size, making the bone weaker. When someone loses a significant amount of bone mass, it results in weak bones that are prone to breaking from a simple fall, or in more serious cases, a sneeze or minor bump. About 54 million Americans are diagnosed with osteoporosis. Studies have shown that 50 percent of women and 25 percent of men over the age of 50 will break a bone during their lifetime as a result of the osteoporosis. While children often quickly recover from breaking a bone, it is much more serious later in life. Osteoporosis can limit mobility and posture, depending on which bones are affected, and may even cause death. It is estimated that 20 percent of senior citizens die within a year of breaking a hip from complications or surgery. Many Americans are living with osteoporosis and do not even know it until they break a bone or notice they have a hunched posture. Learning the risk factors for osteoporosis and making lifestyle adjustments at any age may help protect you from developing the bone disease.

Who is at risk for developing osteoporosis?

When it comes to osteoporosis, there are many risk factors, some that you can change, and others that you cannot.

Risk factors you cannot change:

  • Gender - Typically, women are more at risk to develop osteoporosis because they have smaller bones.
  • Age - Older individuals are also more likely to develop this bone disease because bones become thinner as you age.
  • Ethnicity - Osteoporosis also typically affects Caucasians and Asians.
  • Family history - If your immediate family has had osteoporosis, you are more at-risk.
  • Fracture history - If you have previously broken a bone in your youth or adulthood, you are more at risk.

Risk factors that you can change:

  • Diet - A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D will help your bones stay strong.
  • Exercise - Inactivity leaves bones vulnerable, so lead an active lifestyle and strength train.
  • Smoking - Cigarette smokers absorb less calcium from their diet than a nonsmoker, plus it leads to a long list of other serious health problems.
  • Weight - Being underweight for your height, especially if you are woman, puts you at an increased risk.
  • Medication - Some common medicines can cause bone mass loss, such as a type of steroid called glucocorticoids, which are often used to treat arthritis and asthma. Medication used to treat thyroid disorders can also cause issues, so it's important to tell your doctor which medications you are currently taking and create a plan to protect your bone health.

Protect your bones!

Eating a well-balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is one of the easiest ways to help your bones. Good sources of vitamin D are natural sunlight, egg yolks, saltwater fish, and dairy products fortified with vitamin D. Calcium-rich foods include fortified tofu and soy products, leafy greens (broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale), beans, nuts, and dairy products. If you make positive lifestyle choices, but still have osteoporosis, there are medications available to prevent and treat bone disease. Work with your doctor to create a plan that works for you, and depending on your symptoms, they may transfer your care to an endocrinologist.

For more resources on osteoporosis and bone health, visit www.nof.org or www.niams.nih.gov