We all know how important it is to have strong bones (as well as strong nails and teeth), which is why we have bone density tests done.
The idea of a bone density test is to determine … right! How dense our bones are.
I had my bone density test done this month and discovered a thing or two about my bones – things I am now working very diligently on knowing that with the right combination of care, my bones will carry me around for much longer.
As we head into the warmer weather, outdoor activities become more common and we all want to be able to enjoy the sports and play that comes along with the sunshine. Strong bones are a must.
Porous Applies to More Than Skin
If you’re a woman in her 50s, you are no doubt fully aware of the concerns around bone health and are probably taking calcium supplements to help ensure your bones stay strong, especially since women are more prone than men to osteoporosis.
So, what exactly is osteoporosis?
The word itself actually means “porous bones”. The condition is a progressive one in which bones become structurally weak and are more prone to breaking and fractures.
It’s been called a “silent” disease because it happens without you knowing it. Unless you have a bone density test, you won’t know there’s a reduction in the density of your bones.
Until around the age of 25, our bones maintain a balance between bone loss and bone growth, however; as we age, bone loss exceeds bone growth and the chance of osteoporosis increases.
Menopause, which generally occurs in women when they are in their 40s or 50s, speeds bone loss. Older men also lose bone mass faster as they age.
Bones in the hip, spine and wrist are especially prone to fractures – fractures that would not have occurred in a younger person with stronger bones.
Osteopenia is a more moderate decline in bone mass than what is seen in osteoporosis.
There is good news in all of this, despite how it appears.
You can take steps to prevent further bone loss even if you have osteopenia or osteoporosis.
Let’s Take a Look
The gold standard for measuring bone strength is a bone mineral density test, performed using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA).
Having undergone this procedure a few times, I can tell you it’s painless and quick. You lie on a table and an x-ray scanner begins at your feet and scans your skeleton up to your neck. Where I live, a CD of the scan is provided following the procedure and your doctor gives you the outcome.
While this is an excellent way to determine density of the bones, what it doesn’t do is measure the quality of the bones. Yes, bone density is correlated with strength, but it isn’t the entire picture.
In theory, you can have very dense bones that are also weak and/or brittle, thus prone to fractures and breaks.
Conversely, you can also have a low DEXA scan score and have strong bones that don’t break easily.
So, you see, while bone density is important – and the DEXA test is the primary method of determining bone strength – it doesn’t necessarily mean you have strong bones.
The word strong, in terms of bone, implies that bones are difficult to break due to their compressive, tensile and stress strength as well as their elastic properties.
You could say that a strong bone is one that doesn’t break easily.
How To Create Strong Bones
The great news is that we can slow bone deterioration with nutrition and exercise.
Bone is comprised of a composite of calcium hydroxyapatite, phosphorus as well as a protein called collagen and numerous other minerals. In order to be strong, bones require much more than calcium. They need minerals, including calcium, balanced by protein.
The mantra has always been to take more calcium and take Vitamin D in order to help your body absorb the calcium.
While there is obvious merit to this method, there are other ways to improve bone strength besides taking calcium. In fact, taking too much calcium can be a problem for good health.
Along with the right mineral supplementation, a diet that is well balanced and includes sufficient calories, protein, fat and quality carbohydrates from vegetables and fruits will help ensure your bones have a good chance of becoming stronger.
But, as you know, nutrition is not enough. Exercise is crucial, and although most recommendations by doctors suggest that any type of exercise is good, the fact is that research has shown that some forms of exercise may be detrimental and even cause bone loss.
People with osteoporosis or osteopenia need specific exercise prescriptions to stimulate bone repair and improve bone strength.
Strong bones have the capacity for self-repair and the best way to help our bodies is to be sure we have the right tools: specific exercise and a nutritious diet – both are key to building and restoring stronger, healthier bones.