Sowing the seeds for good bone health happens early in life. Babies who are breastfed are given vitamin D drops because a mother’s milk does not contain enough. Children are given milk fortified with vitamin D. But as adults, getting adequate vitamin D falls off the radar, along with adopting healthy behaviours to build bone strength and prevent osteoporosis.
It’s a concern among healthcare providers, like Dr. Marla Shapiro, professor, department of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto and a member of the Order of Canada (C.M.). “I think there isn’t much of an awareness of osteoporosis as a disease we talk about,” she says. “Most people don’t recognize the fact that what you do in your young adult years will lay the foundation for what happens to you as an older individual… If you don’t achieve your peak bone mass, which typically happens in the first couple of decades of life, it can really make a difference in your bone foundation as you go forward. Osteoporosis is a disease that begins to present in pediatric and adolescent years, but manifests itself in the adult and geriatric years.”
The good news? “It’s never too late to take steps to prevent osteoporosis,” she notes. “Seeing what you can do proactively to protect your bones is critical. You’ll always benefit from a healthy lifestyle.”
6 tips, tricks and tools for boosting bone health
1. Bone up on calcium-rich foods.
Adults over the age of 50 should have at least 1200 mg of calcium daily. Studies show that bone loss can be slowed and the risk of fracture reduced by an adequate intake of this important mineral. Ninety per cent of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones. Not sure about your intake? Try this handy calcium calculator from Osteoporosis Canada. Top calcium sources from food include milk (whole, 1%, 2%, skim) 300 mg per 1 cup serving, plain yoghurt (1-2% milkfat) 332 mg per ¾ cup serving, and fortified orange juice 300 mg per 1 cup serving.
2. Mind your D.
Most Canadian adults are vitamin D deficient or insufficient so make a commitment to flip the script and take D3 (cholecalciferol) supplements as needed. They would do well with 1,000 IU per day year-round, suggests Dr. Shapiro. Foods with significant vitamin D include: swordfish 761 IUs per 75 g serving, canned pink salmon (with skin and bones) 435 IU per 75 g serving, and cod liver oil 426 IU per 5 mL or 1 tsp.
3. Maximize absorption of vitamin D.
“Most people don’t realize that vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin,” notes Dr. Shapiro. “If you’re taking a supplement in the morning on an empty stomach, chances are, you’re not absorbing it.” A better option is to take it with a serving of cottage cheese, toast topped with nut butter, or a yogurt smoothie. Another choice is vitamin D in spray form. A spritz under the tongue goes directly into the bloodstream without the need for fat.
“Seeing what you can do proactively to protect your bones is critical. You’ll always benefit from a healthy lifestyle.”
4. Assess your risk.
Discuss your risk for osteoporosis and ways to prevent it with your healthcare provider. A good starting point is to talk about the results of this risk assessment tool from Osteoporosis Canada. Keep in mind that osteoporosis can happen at any age and to anyone. It’s not a woman’s disease and it is not a normal part of the aging process. In many cases, it can be prevented. It’s never too late to take charge of your health and to embrace healthy habits that keep bones strong.
5. Exercise control over falls and fractures.
“Exercise is important because, if you have a strong core and you have strong muscles, that’s going to decrease your risk for a fall,” explains Dr. Shapiro. Falls can result in fractures. Fractures can lead to additional fractures, including hip fractures, which have a mortality risk. It’s a tragic chain of events that can be prevented in part by doing some sort of weight-bearing or weight-bearing resistant exercises that let you work against gravity, including hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, tennis or lifting weights.
During COVID restrictions, taking a walk is a good option (as long as conditions aren’t icy or snowy), or buy some inexpensive weight-resistance bands. Another bonus of exercise? Bone does respond to it and become stronger. The suggested amount is 30 minutes on most days of the week. That total time can be split up into smaller chunks, too, if needed.
“You don’t want to put yourself at risk by doing exercise,” she points out. “So you have to understand firstly, ‘Am I a candidate for doing weight-bearing exercise? And what does that mean for me if I’m at average risk?’” Consult a doctor before you embark on a new exercise program to ensure it’s safe for you.
6. Stay engaged and be empowered.
Since you’ve read this post, you’ve already taken an important step by arming yourself with facts – one of the most powerful weapons you have to fight osteoporosis. If you have the disease, speak to your doctor about what medications may be available to help rebuild bone and repair it after a fracture, due to a fall.
“Looking at your lifestyle, your nutrition, increasing awareness of osteoporosis are some of the most important things you can do – not only for bone health but heart health, too…” explains Dr. Shapiro. “Being able to say to yourself, ‘It’s never too late’ and ‘The first thing I want to do is empower myself with information…’” That should include bone-building exercise, good nutrition, diet, healthy behaviours, risk factors, and when to get a bone density test. “You can always drive this conversation with your healthcare provider.”
Supported through a Sponsorship by Amgen Canada Inc.