We remember being told as children to drink milk to have strong bones. The ‘Got Milk?’ campaign centered around milk being essential to healthy bones. As we get older we may replace milk with soft drinks and forget to be mindful of our bones, that is until we notice our joints aching and the looming possibility of osteoporosis.
Around the age of 25, our bones and joints are at the height of their strength. Bone mass decreases and cartilage wears down as time goes on becoming fragile. Joints protect the bones from rubbing against each other but when cartilage is worn away too much it can lead to arthritis. At some point after the age of 50, half of all women and a fourth of men will fracture a bone due to osteoporosis. This condition, that affects women more aggressively than men especially after menopause, continually weakens the bones causing the break very easily.
Good bone and joint health start in childhood often with a tall glass of milk and an active lifestyle. Proper nutrition is imperative to strengthening and later maintaining bones and joints. Calcium and vitamin D are essential. Many kinds of cereal and milk come fortified, making a bowl in the morning, not a bad option (just watch the sugar levels). Dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, bok choy, and collard greens are packed with calcium — so are edamame and yogurts. For the dairy-sensitive, enriched soy and almond milk can make up your calcium needs.
While there are foods fortified with vitamin D, your body will naturally produce when exposed to sunlight making for an excellent opportunity to get up and go on an afternoon walk. Just 15 minutes a few times a week should produce enough vitamin D for your body to properly absorb calcium.
But don’t let those 15-minute walks be your only source of exercise. Maintaining a healthy weight is imperative to the body’s health. Extra weight can put unnecessary strain on your bones and joints. Research shows that for every extra pound, there’s four times more stress on the knees. Bones become stronger through activity and benefit from muscle building exercises (muscles and ligaments protect the bones and joints too — bonus!), dancing and brisk walking. Change up the types of exercises, though, since weight-bearing exercises can wear out joints. Mix in some aerobic workouts like running or for low-impact options try swimming and cycling. Speak with your doctor before starting any new exercise programs and find a trainer if you need help learning proper form to avoid injury.
Somethings aren’t so helpful to keeping bones and joints strong. Soft drinks and caffeine may not be so bone-friendly so try to limit the intake of these. Alcohol can also hinder bone and joint health so women should have no more than one drink a day, up to seven a week, and men two drinks a day but no more than 10 a week. Not only is it bad for your lungs, but smoking is also bad for the bones. Healthy lifestyle choices can help improve quality of life in later years.
It’s important to understand what effects medications may have outside of its main purpose as some may have adverse side effects. Prednisone, a corticosteroid used to help arthritis inflammation, decreases the amount of calcium absorbed causing bones to weaken.
Supplements could be an option for maintaining the nutrition needed for bone and joint health. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about any deficiencies in your diet and if supplements are a good fit. There are new medicines on the market in recent years to help with osteoporosis and more to come. They’re all a little different but increase bone mass either by encouraging new bone growth or slowing the breakdown of the bones.
In a person’s younger years, it’s vital to build up strong bones and joints to set the foundation for their later years. Nutrition and exercise are the pillars of building and maintaining all aspects of a person’s health. So remember, drink your milk.