We each have approximately 206 bones in the body. Bones are living things that are constantly being broken down and rebuilt. Bones are strong – ounce for ounce they carry as much weight as reinforced concrete. Unfortunately, our bones tend to weaken as we age. Until about age 30, we make new bone faster than we break down old bone. After that we lose more bone mass then we gain, which can result in osteoporosis, a condition where bones become brittle, porous and subject to fracture.
Here are a few things that you can do at any age to keep your bones functioning well.
1. Include weight bearing exercises in your daily routine. These exercises cause small amounts of damage to the bone. Osteoblasts, cells in the bone marrow, respond by creating new bone to repair the damage, which results in denser, stronger bones.
2. Get sufficient amounts of calcium. The body doesn't produce calcium, so we need to get it from our diets. There is some controversy about the appropriate amount of calcium that we need on a daily basis. I tend to side with Dr. Walter Willet, Chair of the Nutrition Department at Harvard University School of Public Health, who recommends getting 500-700mg of calcium daily for adults, a little lower than the US recommended daily requirement.
Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that dairy, a high source of calcium, weakens the digestive system. Instead include spinach, broccoli, bok choy, almonds, kale, sardines with bones, soy products, quinoa, amaranth and parsley in your diet. If you take a supplement, take no more than 250mg at a time with meals since the body has difficulty absorbing more than this.
3. Don't forget about Magnesium and Vitamin D. It's important to have sufficient amounts of magnesium to help with the absorption of calcium. Aim for approximately 400 mg a day. Foods rich in magnesium include whole grains, dried seaweed, soybeans and soy products, foods with dietary fiber, nuts and seeds, beans & legumes.
Vitamin D increases the intestinal absorption of calcium. In earlier times, when we spent more time in the sun and before the advent of sunscreen, our bodies manufactured enough of this vitamin. Today, particularly during winter months, you might need to take a supplement. Recommended amounts are 600 IU if you are younger than 70, 800 IU after that.
4. Limit caffeine and alcohol. These can lead to bone loss. Have no more than 2 cups or glasses of each per day.
5. Avoid long-term use of steroids. These can lead to lower bone density.
6. Massage the acupuncture point Kidney 7. Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches us that the kidneys are associated with bones. Find this point two finger widths above the ankle.
Bonnie Diamond, Licensed Acupuncturist