Most people think osteoporosis is something to worry about when they are middle aged or older. However, research has shown getting ample vitamin D and calcium and living an active lifestyle when younger is very important when building strong bones.
“Young people should be aware that they need to work to maintain healthy bones early in life and throughout life,” said Dr. Allyson Mayeux, bone health expert and internal medicine physician at Marshfield Clinic Health System.
Get enough vitamin D and calcium
Dr. Mayeux added that parents should make sure their kids are getting enough vitamin D and calcium in their diets.
Calcium plays a crucial role in developing strong bones. Low intake of calcium is linked to low bone mass and more bone fractures.
“Not getting enough vitamin D and calcium in the younger years is a driving force for having osteoporosis when older,” said Dr. Mayeux. “In areas like Wisconsin where Marshfield Clinic Health System is based, we have naturally low vitamin D levels. If you’re vitamin D deficient, that can be a cause of losing bone mass and eventually osteoporosis.”
Vitamin D is important because it helps our bodies absorb calcium. You can get vitamin D from sunlight, supplements and eating foods high in vitamin D such as egg yolks, saltwater fish and vitamin D fortified milk.
If you are avoiding dairy products, other good sources of calcium include almond milk, almonds, and many kinds of fruits and vegetables.
Drop the energy drinks, but maintain an active lifestyle
Dr. Mayeux also warns against over-indulging in energy drinks, coffee or other vitamin D and calcium-rich drinks, which have become increasingly popular, especially for teens and young adults.
“It is not a great idea to substitute good, healthy, calcium-rich foods for an energy drink or coffee that really has no health benefit,” Dr. Mayeux said. “Those drinks may not directly harm bone health, but if you’re drinking a lot of them in place of other, healthier options, you may be planting the seeds for bad bone health. Energy drinks instead of healthier options may be contributing to obesity and diabetes, both of which can increase osteoporosis risk.”
Dr. Mayeux said that an active lifestyle is also important to maintaining strong bones.
“A sedentary lifestyle is not good for bone health,” Dr. Mayeux said. “Running, jumping, playing sports, any kind of weight-bearing exercise will help keep bones strong. Find a physical activity you like, it doesn’t matter what, as long as it’s weight-bearing.”
Fill up the piggy bank
The body builds up storage of calcium until about age 30, and then as you age past that point, your calcium level starts to drop.
“You’re kind of filling up the calcium piggy bank when you’re young, and then as you age and your calcium drops, you hope you have enough in that piggy bank to keep your bones healthy,” Dr. Mayeux said. “That’s why young people need to be so aware of their diet.”
Dr. Mayeux said if you have a family history of osteoporosis, you may be more likely to develop the disease. Dr. Mayeux added that Asian women in particular are at higher risk of developing osteoporosis as are women who are of smaller stature with thin bones. Women in general are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men.