May is National Osteoporosis Month. A lot of people think of osteoporosis as a disease that only affects people late in life, but did you know that your bone mass peaks in your 20s?
Bone, like skin, is a living tissue and is constantly breaking down and reforming. Until about the age of 25 your body is builds new bone at a faster rate than it loses old bone. Once you reach 30 the process of building new bone slows down.
Osteoporosis is a thinning of bone and loss of bone density over time. It can lead to frequent fractures, pain, back problems, disability, and even death. Just to be clear, although it is normal to lose some bone density as you age, osteoporosis is not a normal part of aging.
The good news is there's a lot you can do to keep your bones healthy (even after 30).
Everyone has heard that for strong bones you need to consume enough calcium, but what does that mean? For people between 19 and 50 years old, the recommendation is to consume 1000 mg of calcium every day (once you're over 50 the recommendation goes up to 1200 mg/day). One cup of milk or yogurt provides about 300 mg of calcium.
There are a number of foods you can consume to help you meet your daily calcium needs. Dairy is an obvious choice, however cooked greens such as kale, broccoli, and spinach also provide some calcium (40-140 mg/serving). Kidney beans and pinto beans provide 40-45 mg for every 1/2 cup. There are also a variety of calcium fortified foods from soy products to cereal to orange juice.
It's important to spread your consumption of calcium rich products throughout the day because your body can only absorb about 500 mg of calcium at a time. Both Vitamin C and Vitamin D help your body to absorb calcium more effectively so it's a good idea to try and eat foods rich in those nutrients around the same time.
Vitamin D is fortified into a lot of the same foods calcium is fortified into, but check the label to be sure. You can also get Vitamin D from egg yolk, fatty fish, and beef liver.
One thing to be aware of, especially if you're planning on your breakfast cereal being a source of calcium, is that caffeine inhibits your body's ability to absorb calcium. So you want to space your morning coffee at least 30 minutes after your calcium rich food intake.
Another key part of maintaining healthy bones is performing weight bearing exercises 2-3 times every week. If you're new to exercise or strength training, body weight exercises can be a great place to start. Things like push ups, body weight squats, lunges, and step ups are great ways to both build strength in your bones, as well as increase your balance and muscle strength.
As you get stronger and those exercises get easier try adding weights to increase the resistance your body needs to work against. (It's better to start with too light of a weight than too heavy. Injuries are nobody's friend.)
Taryn is a Los Angeles based Registered Dietitian who's passionate about helping you be your healthiest you.