In a quest for better health with improved diet and activity for the new year, bone density and muscle strength are commonly overlooked as essential ingredients for good balance and a solid foundation for longevity and health.
With cycles of dieting and food restrictions over the years, important foods that provide bone-building elements may be unnecessarily eliminated from the daily intake. This can lead to weakened bones over years due to osteoporosis which makes individuals more prone to fractures.
Many people don’t realize how important it is to ensure adequate amounts of calcium-rich foods and fluids, plus vitamin D, protein and weight-bearing exercise for good balance and bone health.
Osteoporosis has been called a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences. Adequate amounts of daily calcium and vitamin D are essential from early in life and continues to be necessary throughout the life cycle into the senior years. Eighty percent of people over 50 who fracture bones have osteoporosis, with many not realizing they were at increased risk for thin bones.
Like a building, our skeleton endures wear and tear overtime, which can eventually cause structural defects. Our bones have a ‘maintenance crew’ with cells called osteoclasts that remove any damaged or weakened bone and builder cells called osteoblasts that fill in the crevices with material that hardens to form new bone. This cycle of the bone re-modelling process takes about three to four months to complete in a healthy young adult.
As people age, the maintenance crew of osteoclasts and osteoblasts become less efficient at working together and the osteoclasts remove old bone faster than it is able to be rebuilt. Plus, with age, calcium absorption is reduced, so, it’s more difficult for the osteoblasts to have the necessary ingredients to rebuild.
Adults need 1000-1200 mg of calcium per day, which is approximately three servings of calcium-rich foods and fluids daily to get enough.
Foods and fluids, such as yogurt, milk, fortified soy, rice and almond milk, cheese, canned fish with bones (salmon, sardines, herring, etc.) and almonds all provide good sources of calcium.
If digesting lactose (naturally occurring milk sugar) is an issue, a few tips to improve absorption without symptoms of gas, bloating and diarrhea would be to take small amounts of dairy with other foods throughout the day instead of a lot at once.
Also, yogurt is generally well tolerated due to the active culture (probiotics) and hard cheeses are usually tolerated.
Plus, there are lactase enzyme pills and drops that can help digest the lactose sugar in milk.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is also required to build stronger bones.
It increases absorption of calcium and helps the function of muscles, which improves balance and decreases likelihood of falling.
Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, since it comes from the sun. The sun’s rays cause a reaction in our skin to produce vitamin D that can be used for bone and muscle health.
In Canada, because of the latitude of a northern climate, people don’t get as much sun as required for vitamin D; and when we apply sunscreen in the summer, that disables the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D from exposure to sun’s rays.
Additionally, as individuals age, the skin’s ability to make vitamin D decreases and for all of these reasons, many Canadians are not getting enough vitamin D and have a deficiency.
There are very few food sources of vitamin D.
In fact, it is impossible for adults to get sufficient vitamin D from diet alone, no matter how good their nutrition.
Therefore, Osteoporosis Canada recommends routine vitamin D supplementation for all Canadian adults year round.
Healthy adults between 19-50 years of age, including pregnant or breast feeding women, require 400 – 1,000 IU daily. Those over 50 or those younger adults at high risk (with osteoporosis, multiple fractures, or conditions affecting vitamin D absorption) should receive 800 – 2,000 IU daily. These amounts are safe. Taking more than 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily should be done only under medical supervision.
Along with calcium and vitamin D, adequate and reasonable amount of protein in meals is part of the bone and muscle equation. Including two to three servings of protein-rich foods daily will provide the building blocks for maintenance of bone and muscles. Poultry, fish, beef, pork, eggs, soybeans, legumes, nuts and seeds can offer good quality protein in the daily diet.
Weight-bearing exercise is imperative to maintain bone density and muscle strength. Lifting weights becomes more important with age due to loss of lean muscle tissue that accelerates overtime. Stronger muscles means denser bones.
With the new year comes new health goals and activities. Instead of focusing on the number on the scale and losing weight, aim to gain muscle and bone density to become a stronger, fit and healthier you.
Sandra Gentleman is a registered dietitian and steward of Canal Beach.