Have you ever wondered what makes — and keeps — bones strong?
If you’re like most people, you haven’t given your skeleton much thought. Unless you’ve snapped a bone. Even then, there’s a good chance the fracture knitted perfectly. As the fragments reunited and you returned to full health, you cast aside any concern.
Generally, we think of “brittle bones” as an old age-related problem… Something to worry about down the track, well into the future. But the foundations of bone health are laid early in life; decades before older age.
But before we share the surprisingly youthful age of peak bone strength, it’s important to know a little about bone density.
Bone density refers to the density of minerals in bone. This measurement compares the assessed bone to the bone of a healthy young adult. As density falls, fracture risk increases. When sufficiently severe – when bones are weak enough to break with little force – a diagnosis of osteoporosis is given; yes, the condition that is thought of as having weak or brittle bones.
One-third of women over the age of 50 years and 20% of men will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture. A fracture that occurs because a bone is too weak to bear the strain of everyday life. If you’re young, it’s easy to pretend this painful and potentially deadly condition isn’t of concern. That your bones “work” just fine. But do they; at what age does the downhill slide begin?
Bone strength hits its summit in the third decade of life. For women, bone density peaks (yes, peaks) at around 22 years of age. For men, bone density peaks at around 26 years of age. So, building and protecting robust bones begins early. There are two important considerations:
1. Building quality bone earlier in your life, and
2. Protecting and preserving that bone, particularly as you age
This raises the question: how?
Here are our top 5 ways to build and maintain strong, resilient bones.
Maintain a healthy weight
When you think about body size, thoughts of waist size and muscle mass might spring to mind. Bones tend not to get a look in. But they should.
Maintaining an optimal weight is good for your skeleton; healthy is the sweet spot! Being too thin or carrying central obesity — excess fat around the tummy area — each increases your risk of weaker bones.
Tip: Want to shed weight? Check out our article, Building better eating habits to achieve your weight loss goals!
Ensure Vitamin D sufficiency
Vitamin D is required to absorb calcium and mineralize bone. So when low, bone density suffers. This nutrient also improves muscle strength, reducing the risk of falls. The “sunshine vitamin,” then, nourishes and protects bone.
To up your intake, enjoy foods like egg yolks, oily fish (mackerel, salmon, and sardines), red meat, and vitamin D-fortified foods. Most importantly, ensure that you are exposed to regular safe sunshine. If you struggle with insufficiency, supplement with a high-quality product.
Tip: While vitamin D is essential for building bones, it’s not the only important nutrient. In our article, The "must know" nutrients needed for strong bones, we share two minerals and a type of macronutrient known to increase bone strength.
Quit bad habits
If you’ve considered quitting smoking or lowering your alcohol consumption, consider this an encouraging nudge.
Smoking interferes with the ability to absorb calcium and build bone. But as the article, The effects of smoking on bone metabolism, said, “Cigarette smoking is a reversible risk factor for osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures.” Yes, quitting allows your bones to recover and rebuild.
Alcohol consumption also weakens bones. Though you might be shocked at how little is required to move the needle. A study published in the journal, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, found that consuming one to two daily drinks increases the risk of osteoporosis by 1.34 times. Drinking more than two alcoholic beverages per day escalates the risk to 1.63 times.
Exercise is great for your skeleton!
As you work to build lean mass, your muscle isn’t the only tissue under stress. Bone undergoes pressure-induced changes too.
It’s normal for bony tissue to be broken down. The body constantly deletes cells and tissues, replacing old with new and damaged with healthy. The skeleton you were born with obviously isn’t the one you die with. Bone is continually resorbed and restored.
The secret to strong, resilient bones, then, is healthy turnover; equilibrium between the tearing up and laying down processes. On the flip side, too much resorption or too little restoration weakens bones.
This balancing act is complex, involving hormones, “talk” between cells (cellular signaling), inflammation, and the application of force. Yet, exercise positively influences each of these factors, and more.
Weight bearing activity produces loads like compression, shear, and tension. These physical forces increase bone strength, protect against bone loss, and help to prevent weakened bones.
What bone-building exercise should you enjoy?
— hiking and walking
— sports like basketball, squash, and tennis
— stair climbing
— weight lifting
Consume adequate protein
When you think about the nutrients required for bone health, there’s a good chance protein doesn’t make the list. Let’s change that.
As an article published in the journal, Nutrition Today, noted, “Dietary protein is the major structural component of all cells (including bone cells) in the body”. It’s more appropriate to think of protein as foundational for health, rather than simply “that” macronutrient required to build muscles.
There’s no better example of this than bone. Protein forms around one-third of bone’s mass. Because bone is involved in a never-ending process of remodeling, a daily supply is required to firstly reach peak bone mass, and secondly to maintain bone density. So, your bones depend on sufficient protein intake.
Yet, research indicates that healthy bones might require more protein than current guidelines recommend.
How do you ensure sufficiency?
Consume an adequate daily intake!
Protein is found in foods including red meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, and beans. High-quality supplementation is also helpful. At Onest, we offer three premium options.
Vegan Complete PRO
Based on pea protein, organic brown rice powder protein, amaranth and quinoa powder, our delicious chocolatey Vegan Complete PRO is great for vegetarians and vegans who face an increased risk of an insufficient protein intake.
Whey Iso PRO
You’ve probably heard of whey protein isolate because it contains a higher protein content with fewer carbs, fat, and lactose. In essence, isolate packs a greater health punch. Our Whey Iso PRO is a protein-rich favorite.
As Clare E says, “The best protein powder ever. ISO PRO is just perfect. I can have it with water, milk or even put it in my coffee. I absolutely love ISO PRO. ❤️”
Do you experience digestive issues?
We’ve got you covered. Our 100% whey protein isolate is formulated with Digezyme® digestive enzyme blend to support digestion and gut health.
The bone-strength takeaway
Your skeleton stays with you from cradle to grave; resorbing and remodeling throughout life. Without adequate nourishment and care, the remodeling process can go awry. The risk of osteoporosis jumps.
Weak or snapped bones can lead to disability, even death. But caring for the health of your bones should begin far earlier than you might expect.
So, to build and safeguard your bones, maintain a healthy weight, ensure Vitamin D sufficiency, quit bad habits, get active, and consume adequate protein. Starting now. If you wait until your bones weaken, there’s a good chance you’ve left your run too late.