There are 206 bones in the adult human body, all of which work together with muscles and joints – as well as tendons, ligaments and cartilage – to form our musculoskeletal system. From head to toe, bones offer support for our bodies, protect our organs and help form our shape. Without bones, we’d be unable to sit, stand, walk or do any of the activities we enjoy doing every day. Bone health is important at any age, so it’s never too early (or too late) to get the basics on building strong, healthy bones to lead strong, healthy lives.
What is Bone?
Bone is living, growing tissue that rebuilds constantly throughout our lives. There are two types of bone found in the body: cortical bone (dense and compact bone that forms the outer layer of the bone) and trabecular bone (spongy bone that forms the inner layer of the bone). Bone is made up of three major components:
- Collagen, a protein that provides a soft framework of bone.
- Calcium phosphate, a mineral that adds strength and hardens the framework.
- Living bone cell that remove and replace weakened parts of the bone.
Why Protect Your Bones?
Certain diseases and disorders can strip bones of essential nutrients needed maintain strength and flexibility, causing them to weaken and sometimes break. Others can add too much calcium, causing uncontrollable growth and abnormalities.
Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease. Osteoporosis occurs when too much bone is lost or too little bone is made, or sometimes both. When someone has osteoporosis, bones become weak and can break easily from a minor fall, or in some cases, from simple actions like sneezing and coughing. Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis, but the disease affects men, too. Though a cure has not yet been found, osteoporosis can be prevented and treated through a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, regular exercise and medication (when appropriate).
Other Bone Diseases & Disorders
Other bone diseases and disorders are less common and are usually caused by poor nutrition, genetic factors or problems with the rate of bone growth or rebuilding. They include (but are not limited to):
- Low bone density, a condition that causes bone density to be lower than normal, but not enough to be considered osteoporosis.
- Osteomyelitis, a bone infection caused by bacteria.
- Osteogenesis imperfect (OI), a genetic disorder known as “brittle bone disease” that causes bones to easily fracture.
- Paget's disease of bone, a rare and chronic bone disorder that results in bone deformity caused by abnormal bone destruction and regrowth.
- Bone cancer, a malignant bone tumor that destroys healthy bone tissue.
Healthy Bones Need Calcium & Vitamin D
Calcium is one of the most important minerals needed for healthy bone formation. In addition to building bones and keeping them strong, calcium helps blood clot, nerves send messages and muscles contract. Your body requires vitamin D to absorb calcium. If you do not get enough calcium or vitamin D you may be more susceptible to bone loss, lower bone density and broken bones as you age.
How Much Calcium & Vitamin D Do You Need?
Many people fall short of getting the recommended amount of calcium and vitamin D needed to maintain healthy bones. The amount you need is dependent on your age and gender:
| Age Group
Vitamin D Intake
| Infants 0 to 6 months
| Infants 6 to 12 months
| 1-3 years old
| 4-8 years old
| 9-13 years old
| 14-18 years old
| 19-30 years old
| 31-50 years old
| 51-70 year old men
| 51-70 year old women
| 71+ years old
| 14-18 years old, pregnant/lactating
|| 1,300 mg/day
| 19-50 years old, pregnant/lactating
Source: Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Medicine, 2010
Healthy Calcium Sources
The best source of calcium comes from the foods you eat, both natural and calcium-fortified products, but it can also be obtained through calcium supplements.
- Dairy products such as low-fat and non-fat milk, yogurt and cheese.
- Certain green vegetables such as collard greens, kale, spinach and okra.
- Calcium-fortified products such as soy milk, breakfast foods, cereals, snacks, breads and bottled water.
- Calcium supplements are available without prescription if you are unable to meet your daily calcium needs from the foods you eat.
Healthy Vitamin D Sources
You can get vitamin D in three ways: through sunlight, from diet and from supplements.
- Sunlight – Your skin makes vitamin D from ultra-violet light (UVB) rays in sunlight. Because of skin cancer risk from sun, most people need to get vitamin D from other sources.
- Food – Vitamin D is only found naturally in a few foods, such as fatty fish like wild-caught mackerel, salmon and tuna. It is also added to milk and to some brands of other dairy products, orange juice, soy milk and cereals.
- Supplement – If you aren’t getting enough vitamin D from sunlight and food, talk to your doctor about taking a supplement.
Other Ways to Protect Your Bones
Along with eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising daily, wearing protective gear, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption are equally important steps to protect your bones.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Carrying extra weight can put strain on your bones and joints and may be linked to higher risk for osteoporosis. To sustain bone health across your lifetime, maintain a healthy weight through proper diet and regular exercise.
Include weight-bearing and resistance exercises.
Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, dancing, jogging and jump roping strengthen bones and make them denser. Resistance exercises, such as weight machines, free lifts and elastic bands use muscular strength to improve muscle mass and strengthen bone.
Wear protective gear.
Wearing the right equipment, such as a helmet and padding, when engaging in sports and activities can prevent broken bones, sprains and fractures.
Quit smoking and limit alcohol use.
Research shows that tobacco contributes to weak bones, so if you do smoke, there are readily available resources to quit. Likewise, drinking more than two alcoholic drinks a day may increase the risk of osteoporosis, so limiting daily alcohol consumption may be recommended.
Your bones help you, protect you and support you every day, so making sure to protect them should be a top priority. Developing healthy bones starts with knowing the basics and continues as you maintain healthy lifestyle habits. Take these steps and you will build strong and healthy bones for life!
Ask for a physician referral to the UnityPoint Health – Trinity Orthopedic Physicians Collaborative if you experience chronic bone pain or have concerns about your bone and joint health.
comments powered by