You probably don’t think about your bones very much — that is, unless something happens to them. In fact, most women don’t give their bones much consideration until they are diagnosed with osteoporosis, a thinning of the bones that can lead to painful fractures. For many women, osteoporosis is impossible to prevent; luckily, medications to manage the disease and reduce the risk of fracture are highly effective. Still, keeping your bones strong for as long as possible is within your reach.
Osteoporosis is most common in postmenopausal women, but the damage usually starts well before middle age. While studies suggest that factors including medication, surgical procedures and hormones play a role in the development of osteoporosis, for many women, lifestyle is the biggest cause of bone loss. Common habits, including what we eat and drink, can have major consequences when it comes to bone health.
If you are concerned about your bone health, consider these five habits that contribute to a weak and brittle skeleton.
If the risk of cancer (plus the other myriad health problems) isn’t enough of a reason to stop lighting up, check out this fact: Women who smoke tend have at least 5 percent less bone density at age 70 as opposed to women who don’t.
Smoking affects your bone health in a number of ways. First, it reduces your body’s ability to absorb calcium, which is vital to building strong, healthy bones. Smoking also reduces the amount of estrogen the body produces. Estrogen is important to bone strength, but studies show that women who smoke tend to produce much less of the vital hormone and experience menopause earlier than those who don’t smoke. Ultimately, there is no good reason to smoke, and at least 206 reasons you shouldn’t.
What you drink can also have a negative effect on your bone health. While studies show that moderate drinking — that is, one small alcoholic beverage each day — can actually improve bone health, drinking above moderate levels actually increases the risk of osteoporosis. Alcohol effects calcium absorption in a number of ways. It reduces the amount of vitamin D in the system, which is important for calcium absorption; it causes the body to create more hormones and magnesium, which deplete calcium reserves; and it stimulates the production of osteoclasts, which limit the production of new bone.
It’s not just alcohol that causes weak bones, though. Drinking soda can also cause loss of bone density, as it contains phosphoric acid that prevents the absorption of calcium. Caffeine can have the same effect, causing the kidneys to flush calcium out of the system.
Limit alcohol, caffeine and carbonated drinks in favor of water, milk or other calcium-enriched drinks for better bone health.
Lack of Exercise
Much like muscles that aren’t conditioned will become weak and flabby, bones that never experience any type of stress won’t be as strong. Bones need exercise in order to grow stronger, so when you have a sedentary lifestyle, you’re increasing the chance of developing osteoporosis later on. In addition, not exercising causes the entire body to be weak, which increases the chance of an injury when you are active or experience a fall. This doesn’t mean you need to become a fixture at the local gym: Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 to 6 days a week will help keep your bones (and your heart, your lungs and every other part of you) strong and healthy.
Inadequate Vitamin Intake
When you think about calcium, you probably think of it as a bone builder. That’s correct, but other parts of the body need this vital nutrient as well. Your heart, muscles and nerves all need calcium in order to function properly, and if they do not get it from the food you eat, they will begin taking calcium from your bones instead, causing them to weaken. Dairy products have high levels of calcium, but so do green leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, some nuts and certain types of fish. If you cannot get the right amount of calcium from food, talk to your doctor about an appropriate supplement.
Everyone loves the way that high heels look, but being a slave to fashion could cost you when it comes to bone health. Regularly wearing heels for extended periods can cause strain on the ankle joints and the bones of the legs and feet, weakening them over time. While occasionally wearing a pair of sexy stilettos won’t do too much damage, it’s best to make quality, supportive, well-fitting footwear a wardrobe staple.
In the end, as with most chronic conditions, a healthy lifestyle is the key to avoiding osteoporosis longer and keeping your bones strong and healthy well into your golden years. You may not be able to do much about getting older or going through menopause, but if you eat right, exercise, stop smoking and limit alcohol, you will reduce your risk of a whole host of health issues.