An adult human being has 206 bones in the body. Mainly, bones consist of collagen fibers and an inorganic mineral in the form of small crystals. Living bone in the body contains between 10% and 20% of water. Of its dry mass, approximately 60-70% is bone mineral. The rest is collagen, which is the main fibrous protein in the body. The inorganic mineral calcium phosphate is found in the chemical arrangement termed calcium hydroxylapatite. This is the bone mineral that gives bones their rigidity.
Basically, the bone tissue is of two types – cortical and cancellous, which gives bone rigidity and a coral-like three-dimensional internal structure. Other types of tissue found in bones include marrow, endosteum, periosteum, nerves, blood vessels and cartilage.
Bone is an active tissue composed of different types of bone cells. Osteoblasts are involved in the creation and mineralization of bone; osteocytes and osteoclasts are involved in the re-absorption of bone tissue.
People lose bone mass or density as they age, especially women after menopause. The bones lose calcium and other minerals, causing bone loss. Bone loss can cause osteoporosis, where bones can become so thin that they break. Fractures from osteoporosis are a leading cause of disability. The good news: Osteoporosis isn't a natural part of aging. There's plenty we can do to keep our bones strong and healthy.
How to keep bones strong as we age –
Due to significant changes that affect adversely the health of bones with age, people have to take special precautions to prevent or slow down the process of changes.
Take nutrients for bones – Calcium is a crucial building block of bone tissue. Vitamin D helps body absorb and process calcium. Together, these two nutrients are the cornerstone of healthy bones. Milk and other dairy products are excellent natural sources of calcium. One can have adequate amounts of these by eating three servings of dairy products a day. Other good food sources of calcium include calcium-fortified orange juice, leafy green vegetables, and broccoli. Researchers believe that most people fall short on vitamin D, a critical nutrient. Older people are especially at high risk of vitamin D deficiency, the reason being that the body becomes less efficient at producing vitamin D as we age.
Experts recommend across the board 1, 000 mg of calcium a day for most adults and 1, 200 mg / day for women after menopause and men after 70. Normally, adults need at least 600 IU of vitamin D per day for bone health, whereas adults 70 years and older need 800 IU of vitamin D a day to prevent falls and fractures.
Besides these two essential nutrients, bones also require protein, vitamin B12, magnesium, vitamin C, and other nutrients. Unfortunately, the diets of many older people fall short on some of these nutrients. So, even if they're getting calcium and vitamin D, they're still losing bone.
Avoid highly processed food – Processing robs some foods of their natural nutrients. Even when vitamins or minerals are added, processed foods usually lack the full array of nutrients found in natural foods.
Choose whole foods – Choose foods with whole grains, which are far richer in nutrients linked to bone health. Look at the ingredient panel of breads, cereals, and other products made with grain. The first ingredient should be a whole grain.
Go for variety of foods – If you're cooking for yourself, it's easy to get stuck in a rut. You are likely to miss out on the variety that ensures a healthy diet. Try a new grain, such as bulgur or quinoa. Choose vegetables from across the spectrum of colors, from leafy greens to red sweet peppers. Nutritionists say that a colorful diet will help ensure a balance of nutrients necessary for good bone health.
Plan a regular schedule of exercise – Bones are living tissue like muscles and so they respond to exercise as well. Young women and men, who exercise regularly, generally achieve greater peak bone mass (maximum bone density and strength) than those who do not. For most people, bone mass peaks during the third decade of life, after which people begin to lose bone. As a matter of fact, exercise stimulates bone formation, when bone put under medium stress responds by building density. Depending on your age and workout regimen, it can either increase or maintain bone-mass density.
The best exercise for bones is the weight bearing kind that works against gravity. Some examples of weight bearing exercises are weight training, walking, hiking, jogging, stair climbing, tennis and dancing. Some of exercises fail to exercise all parts of the body like walking will only strengthen muscles and bones of the lower part. And, therefore, a holistic plan of exercise should include working out all parts of the body. So, working out with weight-training machines, free weights, or resistance bands, as well as doing exercises that use your body weight as resistance, for example sit-ups and push-ups, or yoga will all build bone density.
It is advisable to begin exercising when one is young to build and maintain bone strength and mass. A suitable plan of exercise is also recommended, if you are at a high risk of fracture especially if you are over 70 or have broken bones easily in the past, to keep fit safely without causing further fractures. But this category of people should begin working out under the supervisions of an expert. A word of caution for those, who have not participated in any kind of exercise for a long time, is to consult a doctor before beginning an exercise schedule. After getting a green signal, they should approach an expert, who is well versed with all aspects of exercise, in order to take help in formulating a suitable exercise plan.
Limit caffeine – Having too much caffeine can decrease the amount of calcium you absorb. Adults should aim for no more than 400mg of caffeine per day (about 2-3 cups of coffee per day). Pregnant and breastfeeding women should have no more than 300mg caffeine per day.
Limit alcohol – Drinking alcohol can contribute to bone loss. If you drink, have no more than 2-3 drinks per day. Have no more than 15 drinks a week if you are a man and no more than 10 drinks a week if you are a woman.
Quit smoking – If you smoke, you may have faster bone loss and a higher risk of bone fractures than non-smokers.
The bottom line –
It is well evident that we all lose bone density with age, variability of which depends on our lifestyle. Our food and exercise habits greatly influence the health of bones. By eating foods rich in nutrients, avoiding processed foods, consuming whole and variety of foods, limiting intake of alcohol and caffeine, quitting smoking, and by doing regular exercise, we can halt or slow down the process of loss of bone density, occurring with age.