You know from our article last month that dozens of factors can affect your bone density as a woman. And though your bone density may not be something you think about every day, maybe it should be. Statistics say one in three women older than 50 will experience a fracture related to osteoporosis, a condition that makes bones weak and brittle.
And if you’re waiting to deal with your bone density until old age, you may be too late. Experts say there are often no symptoms until a fracture.
The good news is, no matter your age, you can work to protect your bone density.
The fight against osteoporosis starts early. “Most bone density is created by the time we’re 30 years old,” Suckow says. “Your kids are under your roof for 18 years, so you have influence.”
Moms of girls have added responsibility since their daughters are significantly more at risk for bone density problems when they grow up. “It’s important that young girls get their stores maximized,” Suckow says. She suggests getting kids in the habit of eating and drinking the following calcium-rich dietary staples:
- milk or other dairy products like yogurt. Kids need two servings per day
- chia seeds and almonds (great for lactose intolerant kids or those who don’t like dairy
If your child is lactose intolerant or otherwise absolutely refuses to eat calcium-rich foods, you may need to talk to your pediatrician about a calcium supplement.
In addition to diet, Suckow says parents should expose kids to the importance of exercising. In addition to burning energy and keeping kids at a healthy weight, exercise is proven to help maintain bone density later in life.
Teens should continue positive dietary habits and exercise, but make sure they aren’t overdoing it. Suckow says to keep an eye on your teen for signs of an eating disorder or over-exercising, particularly to the point that she stops having a period. “If you lose your menstrual cycle, you’re at risk for stress fractures,” Suckow says. If your daughter has started her period and been menstruating normally and stops suddenly, talk to your pediatrician.
In your 20s
Use your 20s to build up as much calcium stores as you can because by 30, you hit peak bone mass and as Suckow says “At that point, you have what you have.” Don’t forget to include Vitamin D. Not only does it help you absorb calcium, it’s also important for immune function.
Your 20s are often a time to experiment with new diets, but be careful to keep your nutrition in mind. “If you’re going to go vegan, for example, be cognizant of getting your lab work done with a primary care doctor to make sure to get all the nutrients you need,” Suckow says. “It can deplete you.”
Your 20s are also a great time to get into an exercise routine. Try to add bone-building exercises like jogging or kickboxing — any activity that generates force from the ground is good for bone density.
In your 30s
By now, you’re likely a working woman spending most of her time at the office. “Unfortunately working women don’t get outside much to get their Vitamin D,” Suckow says. “You may be healthy and eating fine, but you can’t absorb calcium without enough Vitamin D, and the best way to get it is sunshine.”
You need 600 International Units (IUs) of Vitamin D per day, and it can be found in foods like egg yolks, saltwater fish and fortified milk. Suckow suggests asking your doctor about your Vitamin D levels when you go for your annual physical (yes, you should be going to the doctor once a year at this point).
In your 40s
If you’re 40 years old and still smoking, it’s time to put out the cigarette for good. “It’s so important to quit smoking and maintain a healthy diet at this point,” Suckow says. “Smoking robs your bones.”
You should also consider beginning a calcium supplement at this point — you need 1,000 mg per day.
In your 50s and Beyond
These are the years bone density takes a big hit. You’re starting to hit menopause, you’re potentially exercising less and enjoying the perks of retirement more — but don’t let up. Suffering a fracture is not a foregone conclusion. Take your health into your own hands.
- Supplements: By now you should be intaking 1,200 mg of calcium per day, Suckow says.
- Assess your risk: Suckow suggests sitting down and assessing your risk factors for bone density problems or Osteoporosis. Fair-skinned, petite females are at especially high risk, she says.
- You should also keep an eye on your height. “If you’re shrinking, that’s an indicator of lost bone density,” Suckow says.
- Menopause: Your doctor will help you decide whether to do estrogen therapy. Some side effects are unpleasant or even scary, but remember that estrogen helps protect your bones. Talk to your doctor about the right decision for you.
“Gravity always wins,” Suckow says. “If we fall and have poor bone density, when we hit the ground, our bones will break.” This is called an osteoporotic fracture, and if you have one, you’re 86 percent more likely to have another one.
One of the best ways to prevent falls is to have an appropriate exercise regimen. “At this point, exercise should include not only weight-bearing, but also resistance and strength training with bands or body weight,” Suckow says. “Yoga, pilates and barre are valuable because they maintain muscle strength and flexibility which improves your balance.” If you have good muscle tone and flexiblity, your reaction time is better, youre less likely to fall (even if you do have Osteoporosis).
If you or a relative are experiencing frequent falls, physical therapy can be useful, Suckow says.
At home, you can prevent falls for yourself or elderly relatives by removing tripping hazards, such as picking up rugs.
No matter your age, speak to your doctor about how you can protect your bones. Don’t wait until it’s too late.