Muscles help you move, but you won’t get far without strong bones. The spine keeps you upright. The humerus and ulna are the levers that allow you to ease into a low chair or lift a bag of groceries. Strong bone tissue is essential to all movement.
The bones in the human body are ever-changing, made from tissue that gets bigger and harder as we grow from infancy until about age 30, when it typically reaches maximum density. After that, new bone cells continue to replace old bone cells, but the rate of bone loss overtakes the rate of growth: the net is that your bones become more brittle as you age. The most common areas affected by osteoporosis (bone degeneration) are the hip, spine and wrist. The repercussions of osteoporosis can be back pain, stooping, and a decrease in height. What can you do to counteract the loss? Here are four things:
- Consume more calcium.
Calcium is an essential mineral for bone health. In fact, calcium makes up about a quarter of all bone by volume. The best-known sources of calcium are dairy products, like milk, cheese, and yogurt. Canned salmon and dark leafy greens are also solid sources of calcium.
- Eat more protein.
Protein is not only good for building muscle and keeping your appetite at bay (it’s satiating!), it also plays an essential role in bone development. What’s more, some studies suggest that consuming protein increases calcium absorption—a win-win.
- Lift heavy.
Just like muscle responds to stress by growing stronger, so do bones. Heavy weights tax bones in a way that causes them to turn up the growth rate. Bone growth occurs more slowly than muscle growth, but there’s evidence that the body responds to stress on bones within just a few workouts. The result is bone tissue that stays strong or, at least, doesn’t deteriorate quite as quickly.
Lifting heavy means putting stress on your skeleton—so proper form is essential. Experts also recommend doing multi-joint exercises that emphasis your vertical axis—like overhead presses to stimulate spinal growth, or squats to focus on growing leg bones, rather than a single joint exercise like biceps curls.
- Jump or skip rope.
A little bit of impact goes a long way when it comes to bone health. Box jumps put stress on your bones in a way that makes them fight back with growth, for example. But if you worry about high impact things like jumps, consider lighter-impact exercises like jumping rope or jogging. There’s no need to do something jarring, but the more you push your bones now, the more likely they are to stay strong as you grow older, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and diminished physical health.