October is time to bone up on your bones!

Sure, it’s almost Halloween, and bones are everywhere…hanging from doorways, draped in trees, and propped in gardens. But October is also Bone and Joint Health Awareness Month, so unwrap a chocolate bar and pay attention to this important information — you’ll appreciate it as your own bones get older!

It’s important to take steps now so that your bones will be healthy and strong throughout your lifetime. If you’re still young or a parent, note that it’s especially critical in the childhood and teen years to avoid osteoporosis and other bone problems later in life. Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones become softer and fragile, making them fracture or break much easier.

Your body continually removes and replaces small amounts of calcium from your bones. If your body removes more calcium than it replaces, your bones will become weaker and have a greater chance of breaking. By getting lots of calcium when you’re young, you can make sure your body doesn’t have to take too much from your bones.

Calcium is a mineral that is necessary for life. In addition to building bones and keeping them healthy, calcium helps our blood clot, nerves send messages and muscles contract. About 99 percent of the calcium in our bodies is in our bones and teeth. Each day, we lose calcium through our skin, nails, hair, sweat, urine and feces. But our bodies cannot produce new calcium — that ability ends around age 18. You can only maintain what is already stored to help your bones stay healthy.

Calcium is found in a variety of foods. Milk and other dairy products are great sources of calcium. Tweens and teens can get most of their daily calcium from three cups of low-fat or fat-free milk, but they also need additional servings of calcium to get the 1,300 mg necessary for strong bones. In addition:

  • The calcium in milk and dairy products is easy for the body to absorb and in a form that gives the body easy access to the calcium
  • Milk has added vitamin D, which is important for helping your body better absorb calcium
  • In addition to calcium, milk and dairy products provide other essential nutrients that are important for optimal bone health and development.

Other good sources of calcium include dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and bok choy. There also are foods with calcium added, such as calcium-fortified tofu, orange juice, soy beverages, and breakfast cereals or breads. Adults or youth who can’t process lactose also can take calcium supplements but you should check with your physician to ensure compatibility with other medicines or conditions.

There are a variety of calcium supplements available over the counter and by prescription. The amount of calcium you need from a supplement depends on the amount of calcium you get from food. If you get enough calcium from the foods you eat, then you don’t need to take a supplement. In fact, there is no added benefit to taking more calcium than you need in supplements and doing so may even have some risks.  

When choosing the best supplement to meet your needs, keep the following in mind:

  • Choose brand-name supplements with proven reliability. Look for labels that state “purified” or have the USP (United States Pharmacopeia) symbol. The “USP Verified Mark” on the supplement label means that the USP has tested and found the calcium supplement to meet certain standards for purity and quality.
  • Read the product label carefully to determine the amount of elemental calcium, which is the actual amount of calcium in the supplement, as well as how many doses or pills to take. When reading the label, pay close attention to the “amount per serving” and “serving size.”
  • Calcium is absorbed best when taken in amounts of 500-600 mg or less. This is the case when you eat calcium-rich foods or take supplements. Try to get your calcium-rich foods and/or supplements in smaller amounts throughout the day, preferably with a meal. While it’s not recommended, taking your calcium all at once is better than not taking it at all.
  • Take most calcium supplements with food. Eating food produces stomach acid that helps your body absorb most calcium supplements. The one exception to the rule is calcium citrate, which can absorb well when taken with or without food.

Exercise also builds strong bones

Even if you’re older, there are a variety of steps you can take to ensure healthier bones and joints. Bones are living tissue. Weight-bearing physical activity causes new bone tissue to form, which makes bones stronger. When muscles push and tug against bones during physical activity, bones and muscles become stronger.

There are two types of exercises that are important for building and maintaining bone density:  Weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises. Weight-bearing exercises include activities that make you move against gravity while staying upright. These can be high-impact or low-impact. High-impact weight-bearing exercises help build bones and keep them strong. If you have broken a bone due to osteoporosis or are at risk of breaking a bone, you may need to avoid high-impact exercises. If you’re not sure, you should check with your healthcare provider.

Examples of high-impact weight-bearing exercises include dancing, aerobics, hiking, jogging or running, jumping rope, stair climbing and racquet sports such as tennis. Low-impact weight-bearing exercises can also help keep bones strong and are a safe alternative if you cannot do high-impact exercises. Examples of low-impact weight-bearing exercises include using elliptical training machines, doing low-impact aerobics, using stair-step machines, and fast walking on a treadmill or outside.

Muscle-strengthening exercises include activities where you move your body, a weight or some other resistance against gravity. They are also known as resistance exercises and include:

  • Lifting weights
  • Using elastic exercise bands
  • Using weight machines
  • Lifting your own body weight
  • Functional movements, such as standing and rising up on your toes.

Yoga and Pilates can also improve strength, balance and flexibility. However, certain positions may not be safe for people with osteoporosis or those at increased risk of broken bones. For example, exercises that have you bend forward may increase the chance of breaking a bone in the spine. A physical therapist or your physician should be able to help you learn which exercises are safe and appropriate for you.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!