Bones, joints and muscles — we don’t think about them much unless they are causing us pain or limiting our ability to participate in a sport or activity. And yet a proactive commitment to bone health, beginning in childhood, is the key to building and maintaining the bones, joints and muscles we need to keep us active and healthy throughout life.

Childhood

Childhood is when our bones, joints and muscles reach their full potential.  A diet rich in calcium, and regular physical exercise –like walking or running, and team sports like basketball and soccer – helps kids build strong bones, and ensure optimal bone mass (density). Although everyone loses some bone density with age, people who develop a higher peak bone mass when they are young are better protected against osteoporosis, arthritis and related injuries later in life.

Tips for childhood bone and joint health (to last a lifetime):

  • Calcium: 700 milligrams (about 2.5 glasses of milk) between the ages of 1 and 3, to 1,300 milligrams (one cup of orange juice with added calcium, two cups of milk and one cup of yogurt) between the ages of 10 and 20.

  • Vitamin D: This vitamin plays an important role in ensuring that calcium is absorbed into the intestines, and ultimately, the bodies’ musculoskeletal system. Children should receive at least 400 International Units (IUs) of vitamin D each day. As most children and adults do not receive enough vitamin D through diet and sun exposure alone (sunscreen also is important), a daily supplement is recommended.

  • Exercise: Children need 30-to-60 minutes of exercise each day.  Parents should make physical activity a part of their child’s daily schedule, and reinforce the message that exercise and healthy eating are fun and important for lifelong health.

Early and middle adulthood

Diet and exercise are especially important as your body reaches its peak strength and density. Once you reach your peak bone mass (between the ages of 20 and 30), you will begin to gradually lose bone.  Throughout life, the body is continually removing old bone and replacing it with new bone – a process called remodeling. Up until about age 40, all of the bone that is removed is replaced. However, after age 40, less bone is replaced. Maintaining an exercise regimen and adequate daily calcium and vitamin D intake remains critical to preserving bone strength and avoiding joint pain and injury, which often begins to occur in middle age.

Staying strong in midlife is simple with these steps:

  • During your 20s and 30s, young adults should continue to get adequate levels of calcium – at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day – which is best achieved through a daily supplement. Young adults needs at least 30 minutes of weight bearing activity – jogging/running, tennis or brisk walking – four or more days per week.

  • Muscle-strengthening activities with free weights, weight machines or exercises that use your own body weight, such as push-ups, are recommended at least two days of the week.

Age 50+

With aging, bones can become very weak and fragile — a condition called osteoporosis. It often occurs in women after menopause, and in men as they age. This bone-thinning disease puts older adults at a greater risk for broken bones, which can seriously limit mobility and independence.  In addition, wear and tear on the bones and joints often causes osteoarthritis, a progressive disease of the joints in which the ends of the bones gradually wear away.

How to prevent osteoporosis and arthritis:

  • Exercise and diet play a key role in preventing osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, and minimizing the effects of these conditions. Because bone is a living tissue, it changes in response to the forces placed upon it. When you exercise regularly, your bone adapts by building more cells and becoming denser.

  • Another benefit of exercise is that it improves balance and coordination. This becomes especially important as we get older because it helps to prevent falls, and the broken bones and serious injuries – such as hip fractures – that may result.

  • Some people may enjoy participating in a regularly-scheduled exercise class. Remember that even different physical activities in 15 minute intervals can be helpful. The healthful benefits of physical activity are cumulative, however, and the benefits diminish quickly when physical activity ceases.

  • Daily activities, such as brisk walking, bicycle riding, swimming, dancing, housework and gardening provide healthful benefits.  

If you have osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, or another condition, you may be in too much pain or discomfort to exercise. And yet exercise is critical to easing symptoms. In fact, the lack of activity can make these conditions worse or, at least, make them more difficult to live with. Of course, if you have medical or orthopaedic conditions, or if you are out of shape and haven’t exercised in awhile, check with your physician before starting any exercise program.