News | Published April 24, 2014 | Written by Aaron Dawes, MD, family medicine, Mount Nittany Physician Group

Healthy bones as you age

As we age, bone loss becomes more common. Osteoporosis and osteopenia (the precursor to osteoporosis) are the medical terms associated with thinning and weakening bones, which can lead to fractures, disabilities, and hefty medical bills. The good news, however, is that there’s plenty you can do to ensure healthy bones as you age.

There are critical nutrients essential to bone health as we get older. We’re all familiar that calcium helps build strong bones, but the real key is a combination of calcium and vitamin D. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb and process the calcium we consume.

The National Institute of Health recommends approximately 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium per day between the ages of 19 and 70, based on age and gender. In addition, approximately 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D3 per day is recommended for this age group. However, higher doses may be required if you are deficient in vitamin D, which can be determined by your doctor.

Some of the most calcium-rich foods include yogurt, cheese, milk, orange juice, sardines, fortified oatmeal and soybeans, to name a few. It is best if you get the majority of your daily calcium from diet, but if you don’t eat calcium-rich foods regularly, a calcium supplement may be necessary. Look for a calcium supplement that is paired with vitamin D3, and make sure to space out the supplement throughout the day for maximum absorption. For example, if you require 1,000 mg of calcium, take a 500 mg capsule in the morning and take another capsule in the evening, as calcium is better absorbed when taken in small doses.

Some common medications can affect your absorption of calcium. Medications for reflux including PPI’s (proton-pump inhibitors) and H2 blockers are common offenders.

In addition to diet, exercise also helps strengthen bones as we age. Some of the most effective exercises for strong bones include weight-bearing exercises, as these types of exercises are low-impact—meaning they’re better for your knees and joints. Resistance bands are also great if you’re not comfortable using handheld weights.

As you age, diet and exercise will continue to play a large role in the health of your bones. If you have questions about your bone health, speak with your primary care physician.