Although genetics can play a significant role in whether or not a person is at greater risk of developing osteoporosis, physical activity can be implemented at different stages of life to promote healthy bone development.
Bone density is greatly influenced by the amount of calcium (link to calcium page) one had while growing during childhood and adolescence. The main goal of good calcium nutrition is to maintain an adequate supply so that our body does not have to dip into the reserve of calcium in our bones.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb and store calcium from the foods we eat. It is produced when we are exposed to sunlight, such as when playing outdoors during childhood. During the winter months, however, many children do not get enough sun exposure to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D, nor do they get enough vitamin D through dietary intake. Vitamin D intake can be enhanced through dietary sources and supplements.
Weight-bearing exercises or activities (such as dancing, running, skating) help to build bone density and mass in childhood and adolescence, lowering vulnerability to osteoporosis later in life. Research has shown that physical activity during childhood and adolescence has a positive relation to bone density. In girls, the bone tissue accumulated during the ages of 11 to 13 approximately equals the amount lost during the 30 years following menopause.
Calcium helps bones stay strong. It is also required by almost every cell in the body to keep them functioning properly. If the body does not have access to adequate calcium supplies, it will deplete calcium reserves from our bones, reducing their density. Maintaining calcium intake is an important step towards good bone health throughout life. Studies of older adults show that adequate calcium intake can slow bone loss and lower the risk of fracture.
The body uses Vitamin D to extract calcium from the foods that we eat. Vitamin D is also produced in the body when we are exposed to sunlight. Sun exposure is lessened in the winter months, and less Vitamin D is produced as a result. Dietary choices and the intake of certain supplements can increase levels of Vitamin D. Experts recommend that all Canadian adults take a vitamin D supplement (specifically, vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol) year-round.
Weight-bearing exercises can help build strong bones and maintain bone density. They are done with the body remaining upright so that feet and legs support body weight. The term “weight-bearing” should not be confused with lifting weights (known as strength training). Weight-bearing exercises can include: low-impact aerobics, walking/hiking, elliptical training, and using a stair-step machine.