A healthy, active life is one in which you can participate in all the activities that make life worth living! Strong bones are without doubt a significant measure of overall health and vitality.
Bone loss and fractures have in recent years become an increasing concern for women over 65, and rightly so. But a couple of decades ago research indicated that bone loss speeds up in the years immediately after menopause, raising concerns about osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become fragile and break easily, among much younger women. Suddenly any woman over 40 felt she was at risk for osteoporosis. Strong bones help prevent osteoporosis; such prevention should begin at an early age and continue throughout your lifetime.
A Natural Process
Bone loss is a natural, in fact, vital process. Only bone loss (called resorption) can initiate healthy new bone formation (called deposition or formation). As with all things in nature, good bone health relies on a balance between this action and counter-action, like breathing out and breathing in.
New bone is strong and flexible with the ability to bear both compression (running, jumping) and tensile (flexing) pressure. Bones strengthen with use, just like muscle, all through your life. But at some point, bone loss gradually begins to outpace bone growth—when this begins happening is highly individual, but it can be as much as 20 years or more before menopause.
Bone health is influenced by many factors: family history, body frame size, diet, calcium intake, vitamin D levels, physical exercise, hormonal balance, stress, and lifestyle. And because bones are constantly regenerating, every step you take to support their function will make a big difference—whenever you take them.
Bone health depends on the give-and-take process described above, also called remodeling. During this process, bone cells called osteoclasts travel through bone tissue retrieving old bone and leaving small, jagged spaces behind. This triggers their counterparts, called osteoblasts, to come into these spaces and deposit new bone. About 5 to 10 percent of all your bone tissue is replaced—or turned over—in a year in this way. Osteoblasts cannot work properly without sufficient osteoclast activity, and new bone is stronger and—this is key—more flexible than old bone.
No matter how much bone you make, you will still experience bone loss with age, but bone health is important at every age. Building and maintaining strong bones depends on calcium, vitamin D, and physical activity.
Calcium is an important nutrient for your body and for your health. Calcium helps your heart, muscles, and nerves function. It is also important for bone health. Ninety-nine percent of your body’s calcium is stored in your bones. Children and teenagers need adequate calcium in their diets so they can maximize the calcium storage in their bones. In later years, adequate dietary calcium helps minimize calcium loss from the bones.
Studies show that over half of Americans do not get the recommended calcium from their diets. Starting early with the right nutrition is important. Girls frequently do not obtain the needed amount of calcium during their teen years, which has great effect on their bone density in later life.
There are a variety of foods which could give you the needed nutrition in your diet. Collard and kale are two of the most concentrated sources of calcium for a vegan. Fortified calcium orange juice is also good for your skeleton, in addition to kiwis and figs. Grain products are excellent sources of calcium and should be part of your everyday diet from early childhood.
Although dairy products are considered to be the best source of calcium, in addition to those foods mentioned above, vegan vegetarians may obtain needed key nutrients from calcium-rich alternatives: dry beans, such as black-eyed peas, kidney beans, black beans; turnip greens and broccoli.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays an integral role in nutrition and a healthy body. Vitamin D works alongside calcium to ensure the formation and maintenance of healthy bones. A deficiency of vitamin D can lead to rickets in children or osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults.
Vitamin D can be made from a non-food source: the sun! Fifteen minutes a day during peak hours (with skin exposed) should be enough for fair-skinned individuals, but those who have darker skin, are older, or live at more Northern latitudes might not get enough exposure, especially in the winter.
Sometimes vitamin D must be provided in the diet, but dietary sources of vitamin D are rare. Whole, fatty fish are a good source, but are obviously not vegetarian. Milk may be fortified with vitamin D, and egg yolks also contain some, but these are not desirable sources for vegan vegetarians. If a vegan diet does not include fortified soy milk, orange juice, or margarine, on a regular basis, a supplement can be taken.
It may be hard to believe, but exercises do not just help your muscles; they help your bones. Scientific research has shown that athletes have higher bone density than people who are not active. There are two types of exercises that are important for having healthier and stronger bones: weight-bearing and resistance exercises.
Weight-bearing exercise helps keep bones strong and prevents calcium loss. Calcium loss can take place at any age, even during childhood. For example, astronauts (weightlessness in space) and sedentary people are at risk for losing calcium from their bones.
Weight-bearing exercises are the exercises that make your muscles work against gravity and make your bones handle your body weight. Exercises of this sort include jogging, walking, and tennis. Try a daily activity with your family, neighbors, or friends—walking at the mall, joining a fitness club, or doing a hobby. Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity on most days of the week. You can add up the minutes throughout the day. It does not need to be all at one time.
Resistance exercises are the ones which improve your muscle mass and that help fortify and strengthen your bones. Weight lifting is an example of a resistance exercise. Resistance exercises are very vital not only for your bone density, but also for your heart, lungs, and blood circulation in general.
There are many ways to keep your bones healthy and strong for longer time. Personal habits like proper diet and a good amount of exercise will increase your chances to keep your bones healthy and strong for a long time.
“The pure air, the glad sunshine, the flowers and trees, the orchards and vineyards, and outdoor exercise amid these surroundings, are health-giving, life-giving.” The Ministry of Healing, 263.
“The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones.” Isaiah 58:11.