Your bones protect your organs, provide structure and support for the body, and enable you to move around. But one of their greatest strengths is their ability to resist fractures, whether it’s when you are picking up heavy objects or falling while playing a sport. Your bone strength varies, however, depending on your age, lifestyle, bone mass, and overall health.
How is bone strength measured?
Currently, there is no accurate method to measure overall bone strength. However a common test that is used is called a bone mineral density (BMD) test. A BMD test uses dual-energy X-ray absorption (DEXA) scans that use low-dose X-rays to take certain measurements at your hip bone and lumbar spine.
A BMD test measures your bone mineral density and compares it to that of a standard value to give you a score called T score:
- A T-score value between +1 and –1 is considered normal.
- T-score between –1 and –2.5 indicates that you have low bone mass, but it is only a mild issue that can be remedied by exercises, diet and lifestyle changes.
- T-score of –2.5 or lower indicates that you have osteoporosis. You may need medications along with lifestyle changes to improve your bone strength.
It is recommended that all women aged 65 years and older should undergo BMD testing.
What conditions can weaken bone strength?
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become so weak and brittle that even mild stress on the bone when bending over or coughing can result in a fracture. Osteoporosis-related fractures are most common in the hip, wrist, and spine.
What are risk factors for osteoporosis?
Conditions that increase your risk for osteoporosis include:
- Medical conditions such as:
- Surgery of the digestive tract, causing low absorption of vitamin D and minerals
- Calcium and vitamin D deficiency due to dietary restrictions
- Advanged age
- Cigarette smoking
- Caffeine addiction
- Alcohol abuse
- Sedentary lifestyle or lack of physical activity
- Being Asian or Caucasian
- Having a small body frame
- Having a family history of osteoporosis
- Certain medications such as:
What are signs and symptoms of osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis does not usually cause signs and symptoms in its early stages. As the condition progresses and your bones become weak, however, you may experience:
How to improve bone strength
If you think your bones have become weak, you can get your vitamin D and calcium levels checked. Consider taking calcium supplements, such as calcium carbonate or calcium citrate, if your diet fails to supply your body with enough calcium. Consult your doctor about how much vitamin D and calcium is ideal for your age.
To improve your vitamin D levels:
- Spend time under the sun for at least 15 minutes daily. (Do not forget your sunscreen though. Skin cancer is a risk in case of sunburns.)
- Eat fatty fish, seafood and look for foods fortified with vitamin D.
If you are postmenopausal:
- Make sure you get at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium in your daily diet.
- Get at least 400 to 600 IU of vitamin D daily for better bone health.
To improve bone strength through lifestyle changes:
- Eat high-protein foods, such as lean meat, fish, eggs, and nuts.
- Replace high-fat, sugary, and processed foods with vegetables and fruits.
- Do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. I
- Try resistance exercises, such as weights, bands, kettlebells, 2 times a week for at least 20 minutes a day.
If you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, make sure to ask your doctor which exercises are safe for you.
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Mayo Clinic. Osteoporosis. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoporosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351968
Office of the Surgeon General (US). Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville (MD): Office of the Surgeon General (US); 2004. 7, Lifestyle Approaches to Promote Bone Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK45523/
Cleveland Clinic. 7 Tips for Healthy Bones. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/7-tips-for-healthy-bones-2/