Even though we may not be able to see or feel it happening, our bones and joints are constantly changing. When we are young we build bones to grow taller and stronger. However, as we age we may start to lose more bone than we make, which poses a risk for osteopenia, osteoporosis, bone breaks, and falls. Fortunately, there are ways to slow this process down and keep building new and strong bones. This article explains some key nutrients, foods and exercise tips to keep your bones in top shape.
One of the key minerals for healthy bones is calcium. Having enough available calcium in our bodies allows us to constantly rebuild bones to keep them dense, strong and flexible. Our bones have to be strong enough and flexible enough to keep us stable and hold us up in activities ranging from jumping to typing at a computer. As we age, we naturally lose some bone mass, but getting enough calcium can help replace what we put out. Most people need 1,000-1,200 mg of calcium per day. We’ve all heard as kids that milk keeps our bones strong and helps us grow tall and healthy, but dairy is not the only way to get calcium.
Try these other foods out for a variety of calcium sources:
- Fortified non-dairy milks – check for calcium on the food label and try different types to fit your taste
- Green veggies like broccoli, okra, mustard greens, and bok choy (eating them cooked helps with absorption!)
- Sesame seeds and tahini
- Tofu doubles as both a calcium and lean protein source (look for “calcium set” for higher calcium)
- Fortified juices – check for calcium on the food label and have in moderation
Vitamin D works in our bodies by helping to absorb the calcium we eat to help build bones. Without enough vitamin D, we aren’t able to absorb enough calcium for it to keep up with natural bone losses. The best way to get vitamin D is from the sun. 10-30 minutes per day in full sun is enough for most people to synthesize enough vitamin D, about 600-800 IU. As we head into the winter months and say goodbye to bright summer days, this becomes more difficult. Not to fear!
There are plenty of food sources of vitamin D:
- Fortified dairy and non-dairy milks – check for vitamin D on the food label
- Egg yolks
- Fatty fish – try salmon, mackerel, and canned tuna
- Fortified cereal – check for vitamin D on the food label
Magnesium is also an important player in bone health. It helps vitamin D do its job by converting it from the inactive to the active form. Calcium and magnesium are an important duo, as they compete for the same absorption sites in our body, so it is best to get a balance of both nutrients. Magnesium is also an important component of bones that helps keep them strong and dense. Getting 320-420 mg per day of magnesium is enough for most people.
Try these foods to hit your magnesium goal:
- Nuts and seeds such as pumpkin seeds, almonds, peanuts, and cashews
- Black beans
- Dark chocolate – opt for 70% cacao or higher
- Whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal and whole wheat bread
As we age, we can develop joint pain and stiffness. Being more sedentary can cause this to happen even faster. Including a variety of aerobic, strength training and flexibility exercise can keep our joints feeling good and working in top shape. Having strong muscles around our joints can act as a support system when we put large amounts of pressure on them, like around our knees when we run and jump. Flexibility training helps joints and muscles to reach their full range of motion so we can extend and flex to the fullest.
Try out a mix of these types of physical activity to keep your joints moving smoothly:
- Fast paced walking
- Pilates – a good mix of aerobic, strength, and flexibility!
- YouTube home workouts – great during stay-at-home orders
There are many ways to support our bodies as they are constantly breaking down old bone and building new. Calcium, vitamin D and magnesium are a few very important nutrients for strong bones. A wide variety of types of exercise can keep our joints flexible and pain free. Including these foods and incorporating these exercise tips into our everyday lives can help keep our bones strong and healthy for years to come.
Check out these tasty ideas for getting more bone healthy nutrients in your meals and snacks:
Edamame Stir Fry
This Edamame Stir Fry is a veggie delight! Whether you‘re in need of a healthy snack, sweet dessert or an easy recipe that’s guaranteed to turn your kids into fruit and veggies lovers, we’ve got you covered.
Frozen Yogurt Bark
Here's how simple it is to make: mix a little maple syrup with plain Greek yogurt, freeze it in a slab with fruit and granola on top and cut it up for a frozen treat.
Avocado Chocolate Pudding
Try out this pudding with zero dairy and see if your kids can guess the ingredient that makes it creamy. Chef Jim Warner, the top healthy eating expert at the OSU Wexner Medical Center, says a small bowl of this pudding will help curb cravings for sweets.