4 Things That Can Cause Bone Density Loss, According To Experts
When was the last time you thought about your bone health? If you haven’t broken anything lately, you might think you’re too young to think about things like bone density or osteoporosis, a disease that makes your bones more likey to break. But it turns out that there are many things you can do (and not do) in your 20s to take good care of your bones and prevent osteoporosis.
First things first: what is osteoporosis, anyway? People might think of their skeletons as static, solid, and not changing beyond getting bigger as you do: but bones are, in fact, living tissue. And living tissue is constantly growing and recycling itself: a little bit of breakdown, a little bit of rebuilding. According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis is a disease in which the breakdown of our bones happens faster than the rebuilding processes. Our bones literally become more porous (hence the name). The more porous bones are, the more likely it is that fractures will occur with even little movements or bumps.
In many if not most people, bones are at their peak bone mass (meaning most dense and least likely to break) in their early 20s. However, there are things people can do throughout their 20s to maintain a solid amount of bone density to prevent fractures and osteoporosis now and down the road. This preventative bone health care can help you avoid the painful complications of bone loss later in life, and today’s a good day to start.
1. Not Eating Your Leafy Greens
Collard greens, spinach, broccoli rabe, and kale will boost your calcium levels significantly. And calcium is a big deal when it comes to bone health: without it, our bones don’t have the mineral composition they need to maintain themselves. Because remember, your bones need to sustain themselves as quickly as they naturally recycle themselves.
“Our bodies require about 1000 mg/day of calcium for the nerves, brain and muscles to function properly," board-certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. Victor Romano tells Bustle. "If we don’t consume the appropriate amount in our diet, our bodies will rob our bones for this required calcium. This gradually erodes the strength of our bones, increasing our risk of fractures day by day.”
And since not everyone has access to fresh leafy greens, calcium supplements can be effective alternatives to make sure those bones stay strong.
2. Staying Inside
Many people know, at least passively, about the importance of calcium to grow "big and strong" bones. But what they often don’t know is that vitamin D is also essential for bone health.
"It’s vital to avoid Vitamin D deficiency," Dr. Steven Struhl at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital tells Bustle. "Nearly half of the U.S. population is Vitamin D deficient. Find out your blood level and supplement if you are below recommended levels.”
Basically, in order for your body to process calcium intake, it needs a solid supply of vitamin D. While you can get small amounts of this crucial vitamin from food, getting outside into the sun (and possibly using supplements) is often the most efficient way for your body to generate its own vitamin D, according to Harvard Health. This is especially true for people with dark skin, whose higher melanin levels provide greater protection from sun exposure, according to LiveStrong. This comes with an inverse relationship to vitamin D production, so making sure levels are high enough is particularly important.
Practicing sun safety is also a must: a regular 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure a day is often sufficient before you need to break out the sunscreen! The sun helps your body produce vitamin D, but it's not worth getting a sunburn.
3. Drinking A Lot Of Alcohol
All that stuff above about the importance of calcium and vitamin D? Unfortunately, science suggests that alcohol can counteract the positive impacts of calcium and vitamin D. According to a study published in 2019 in American Journal of Men's Health suggests that excessive amounts of alcohol in the bloodstream can interfere with the stomach’s absorption of calcium, and therefore decrease bone health.
So if you’re trying to make sure you have enough calcium and vitamin D to promote healthy bones, make sure you’re bringing a glass of water in between those drinks.
4. Staying Still
Strong muscles aren’t the only thing you’re building when you engage in load-bearing activities like lifting weights or carrying the groceries: you’re also building strong bones. The logic here is that the more you (gradually) ask your bones to tolerate, the more solid minerals it will lay down to the able to handle the load.
To get started, Dr. Romano tells Bustle that, “Core strengthening exercise are essential. The trunk must be stable to support the limbs. Also, a good stretching program to align your joints” will go a long way towards increasing the stability needed to strengthen your bones.
Dr. Andrea Singer, clinical director of the National Osteoporosis Foundationtells Bustle that people in their 20s should find an activity that works for them to promote good bone health. “All activity counts. Walking rather than driving, taking the stairs, parking further away from one’s destination, and other increases in activity can be added to daily life and complement more regular or designated exercise programs. Pick an activity that you enjoy — walking, jogging, dancing, hiking, aerobics — add weights or resistance bands, and make this a regular pattern.”
Making a regular pattern of something you already enjoy doing? For the sake of your present and future bone health? Yes please! Because it might seem like the realities of osteoporosis are far away when you’re in your 20s, but rest assured: you can build a great skeleton for your bone health starting today.