3 Essential Steps for Better Bones

Bones are the building blocks for our bodies. Treat yours right with these tips.

This year, Sunsweet is a Nutrition Supporter of World Osteoporosis Day on October 20th, to help promote nutrition for better bone health. Click here for more bone healthy lifestyle tips, recipes and more.

Bone health isn’t just for the elderly. Research shows that healthy bones are actually shaped very early in life—long before you’ll need a cane for support or your joints are aching. In fact, osteoporosis, the condition that causes bones to become weak and more prone to breakage, has recently been defined as “a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences.” Bones are living tissue, which means they require proper care and nutrients to stay healthy, just like your heart, lungs, and liver. World Osteoporosis Day is October 20, and in the hopes that you never have to deal with this condition, here are three key steps you can take to lock in better bone health for your future.

Eat a Balanced Diet

Think of your bones as the fundamental building blocks of your body. It’s true that “you are what you eat,” and it’s not only about filling up on healthy foods. It’s also about nourishing your bones with the right nutrientsand the recommended amounts of those nutrientson a daily basis. Here’s what you should be incorporating into every meal:

Calcium: If you’re like most Americans, you’re getting less than 25 percent of your recommended calcium, according to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Your bones need calcium more than any other nutrient to stay hard and strong. Good news: While the top calcium contenders do include milk, yogurt, and cheese, you can look beyond the dairy aisle to meet your recommended 1,000 to 1,300 mg of calcium a day. Fill your basket with dark, leafy greens like spinach, collard greens, broccoli, and kale. It’s a trend for a reason: Kale gets you over 100 mg of calcium in a single cup!

Vitamin K: The major nutrient sources of vitamin K are dark, leafy greens such as kale, spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, beet greens, swiss chard, turnip greens, parsley, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. Fruits are also an excellent source of K, including prunes at the top of the list, which offer upwards of 60 mcgs in just one cup, over half of your daily requirement (90 mcgs). Studies have shown that eating prunes may also help prevent bone loss from osteoporosis, especially in postmenopausal women. Other fruits high in the vitamin include kiwi, rhubarb, pears, blueberries, blackberries and pomegranates. Looks like a fruit salad is in your future!

Potassium: No mineral is quite as vital to the human body as potassium—in fact, your body needs almost four times as much potassium (4,700 mg) as calcium for full nourishment. Some foods that pack serious potassium punch include sweet potatoes, coming in at around 694 mg, tomato sauces (raw tomatoes are great too, but tomato pastes actually contain even more!), beet greens, beans, clams (canned or fresh), prunes, carrot juice, and bananas.

Vitamin D: Fill up with this stuff before winter winds howl at your immune system. While this nutrient ups your bone density, studies have also found that it can protect against colds. And unlike calcium, the Institute of Medicine reports that people actually do meet their daily requirement of vitamin Dyou should be getting around 600 international units (IUs) a day. So where can you find it? Well if you love a fresh catch from the sea, dive into a dish of salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, or eel. And when it comes to the pink fish, stick with wild salmon: A Boston University study found that wild salmon has about 988 IU of vitamin D per 3.5 oz serving, almost 75 percent more than that of farmed salmon. Fortified fruit juices are another option, as well as certain mushrooms that have been grown under UV light to promote vitamin D production. 

Exercise Regularly

Along with incorporating a healthy meal plan, it’s equally as vital to get your heart rate up in order to build and maintain a strong bone structure. Not only does exercise help prevent inevitable bone loss around age 30 (yes, that early!), it also helps prevent bone injuries thanks to enhancements in your balance level, coordination, and strength.

So which workouts give the best boost for your bones? All signs point to weight-bearing exercises like weightlifting and strength training, running, hiking, walking, stair-climbing, as well as dancing, and sports like tennis. Think a little less about the importance of breaking a sweat and place a greater emphasis on working the various muscle groups. Tai Chi and yoga are also great ways to accomplish this goal. A study in Yoga Journal found that women who practiced yoga regularly had an increase in bone mineral density in their spine. Strengthening your muscle groups, even just a few times a week, can go far in the long run when it comes to protecting your bones from fracture and breakage.

Curb Bad Habits

In the same way that unhealthy habits affect your internal organs and overall health, they also impact your bones and increase your risk of osteoporosis.

Drinking: Research shows that heavy alcohol consumption, especially during adolescence and early adulthood, can seriously increase a person’s risk for osteoporosis later in life. The reason? Two of the most important nutrients for bone health, calcium and vitamin D, are put at a standstill when alcohol enters the body. Your stomach cannot adequately absorb either of these vital elements due to its interference with the organs that properly activate and break down these elements, your liver and pancreas. Alcohol in excess also kills bone-making cells called osteoblasts, leaving an alcoholic more likely to experience a bone fracture or break. Play it safe: Stick with the recommended amount by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and limit your consumption to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.   

Smoking: You already know that smoking has the potential to cause cancer and other serious diseases, but it can also increase your risk of osteoporosis. The free radicals soaring through a smoker’s body cause severe damage to integral components needed for survival including cells, organs, and hormones. Bones need these hormones to stay strong, so once these free radicals hit your vital organs, bone-damaging alterations occur including bone breakdown and the obliteration of osteoblasts, those bone-making cells.

Caffeine: You love itand we don’t blame you. In fact, 54 percent of Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee everyday, let alone caffeinated drinks including energy beverages, sodas and more. But while it may give you the energy boost you’ve been craving, caffeine also has consequences on your body’s calcium absorption. In fact, around 6mgs of calcium is lost for every 100 mgs of caffeine you drinkthat’s about 6 mgs lost for every cup of coffee you drink! Opt for decaffeinated when you can to give your building blocks the best chance of a long and sturdy life.     

Even if you don’t notice the impact of these healthy life choices for a few more decades, think about the activities and experiences in life you enjoy most. Nearly all of them—from traveling to chasing after your future children (and grandchildren!)—involve placing weight and dependence on your bones. Don’t take those building blocks for granted.

Written by Jenn Sinrich for Sunsweet

Photo by Jake Laub