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How to Care for Your Bones
Bones are the body's first lines of defense. They protect the brain, heart and lungs and anchor the muscles. They keep us mobile. And all they ask in return is our support to keep them strong: good nutrition, weight-bearing exercise, calcium and vitamin D.
Here are tips on how to optimize bone health at the three major stages of life from doctors at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano and Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children:
Kids (birth to age 19)
This is when you need to think of drinking milk (or taking in other calcium-rich sources) as putting money in your bone bank while you strive to achieve your peak bone mass. Because once you hit adulthood, you are cruising on what you've accumulated in calcium and in vitamin D, which helps you metabolize that calcium.
Healthy food intake, with lots of vitamins and minerals, is key to maximizing your bone strength potential. Adolescent girls should be especially wary of fad diets and alert to the signs of anorexia and bulimia, as these can wreak havoc on bone health, says Dr. Karl Rathjen, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.
Weight-bearing exercise of about 30 minutes most or all days of the week is important, but so is being careful to avoid major orthopedic injuries and overuses between childhood and adolescence, according to Dr. Amy Hayes, a pediatrician at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.
Adults (ages 20 to 70)
When young adults leave their parents' home, it's crucial that they don't leave their good bone health habits behind. The time for building bone density has passed; now they must do their best to maintain bone density and prevent bone loss.
Dr. Kim Allen, an internist at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, advises her adult patients to exercise at least 30 minutes five times a week, do weight-bearing exercise and take in at least two servings of calcium-rich foods, such as milk, yogurt, cheese and vegetables, daily.
Seniors (older than 70)
Seniors need to keep up the weight-bearing exercises and good nutrition they established as adults, increasing calcium intake to at least 1,200 mg.
It is particularly crucial that women have a bone density assessment after menopause, says Dr. Mitch Carroll, gerontologist and director of the Senior Health Clinic at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.
Men may need this assessment, too, but it's not always clear at what age they should get it. But men who have lost height or have been exposed to steroids should get them as soon as possible, he says.
Early detection of bone loss can be mitigated by a variety of bone-strengthening therapies to help prevent serious problems.