Both my mother and my maternal grandmother had osteoporosis. Statistics put me in line for the disease too, so I’m very conscious of my eating habits and my exercise routine. Why? Because women are especially prone to osteoporosis, with statistics saying one in four women will start to experience the effects of this debilitating disease after age 50. A lot of the problem is due in part to the hormonal changes menopause causes, making womens’ bone loss worse.
For men, the stats say one in eight men will get osteoporosis in their old age.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease that affects our bones and makes them fragile. And fragile bones lead to injuries as well as reduced mobility, less strength, more pain and a diminished lifestyle over time.
Combatting this disease starts when we’re young, with a diet that includes adequate amounts of both calcium and vitamin D as well as a solid daily exercise program. The results will pay off when you find yourself in old age.
Calcium is one of many minerals that our bodies need to function properly. According to an article in the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, “Calcium is a mineral most often associated with healthy bones and teeth, although it also plays an important role in blood clotting, helping muscles to contract, and regulating normal heart rhythms and nerve functions. About 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in bones, and the remaining 1% is found in blood, muscle, and other tissues.”
A Calcium-rich Diet Is Essential
Not enough calcium in our diet can cause us to use or “borrow” the calcium stored in our bones. This leads to depletion of calcium stores which in turn weakens our bones and makes them brittle. The result means our bones become more susceptible to fractures and breaks and other ailments like osteoporosis if the calcium’s not replaced through the foods we eat. If the disease is too far gone, even diet intervention may not reverse the effects of calcium loss.
The article goes on to explain: “The body gets the calcium it needs in two ways. One is by eating foods or supplements that contain calcium, and the other is by drawing from calcium in the body. If one does not eat enough calcium-containing foods, the body will remove calcium from bones. Ideally, the calcium that is “borrowed” from the bones will be replaced at a later point. But this doesn’t always happen, and can’t always be accomplished just by eating more calcium.”
What To Eat To Increase Your Calcium Intake
Sources of calcium are essentially found in dairy products—cheese, milk and milk alternatives, yogurt—as well as some fishes such as salmon with bones and tinned sardines, sesame and chia seeds, tofu, nuts such as almonds, vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, soybeans, broccoli and legumes. For a complete list and handy calcium calculator that includes serving size and how much calcium is in each food item, check out Osteoporosis Canada.
What’s The Role Of Vitamin D?
Simply put, the absorption of calcium in our bodies is maximised when combined with vitamin D. And, as Healthline reports, “Vitamin D affects many bodily functions, including bone health. Research also suggests low vitamin D levels may be a risk factor for autoimmune diseases.”
Apart from exposure to sunlight, we can increase our stores of vitamin D through our diet. Foods that are high in vitamin D include: cod liver oil, fatty fish such as sockeye salmon, canned tuna, trout, halibut, mackerel, herring and sardines, mushrooms, egg yolks and vitamin D fortified products such as fortified orange juice, milk and milk products, as well as cereals and oatmeal. You can also take vitamin D supplements. For information on daily dose recommendations for older adults, click here.
Move It Or Lose It
Finally, exercise is another factor in the fight against osteoporosis, even if you already suffer from the disease. Daily strength and weight bearing exercises—swimming, dancing, resistance training (free weights, dumbbells, elastic band workouts), walking, aerobics (water aerobics if you already have the disease) can help keep bones and the muscles surrounding them strong. Try to include Tai-chi, yoga, or other balance-centric exercises in your routine as well.
Before committing to an exercise program, be sure to check with your doctor to see which ones are best suited to you and your condition especially if you already have osteoporosis. Good luck and good health, friends!