Bone Density: What Is It And Why Is It Important?
Most of us understand the need to have strong bones (good bone density), particularly as we age. Would you be surprised to know that poor bone density and osteoporosis are not problems solely experienced by older people?
Bones provide the framework our bodies need to secure our muscles, protect our organs and store the calcium we need.
I want to explain what it is and why it’s important that we all think about our bones, even before we turn 30!
What Is Bone Density?
Our bones are living tissues that change and regenerate throughout our lives. Bone density (or bone mass) refers to the amount of minerals in our bones, specifically the amount of calcium and phosphorous.
It is affected by several factors, including genetics, diet, exercise, hormones, age, general health and medical history. Low density can result in osteoporosis, causing your bones to become fragile and at risk of fractures.
Most of us will hit our peak bone mass at around age 30 – I kid you not! Contrary to popular assumption, low density is not an old age problem. As illustrated by the image below, the higher your bone density at its peak, the longer that good bone health is retained.
Why Is Bone Density Important?
Bone density is a key indicator of bone health and strength. Your bones are at greater risk of fracture if you have low density and you could be considered to have osteopenia or osteoporosis.
Osteopenia (a reduction in bone minerals) and osteoporosis (significant loss of density) can affect people of any age, but there are groups at higher risk such as postmenopausal women and people who have had repeated fractures of a bone.
During menopause, women produce significantly less oestrogen, a key mineral for bone health. This can cause a steep decline and increase the risk of fractures. Repeated fractures can also weaken the affected bone over time and put it at greater risk of recurrence.
The Bone Density Test
If you are at risk of or identified as having low density, you should be offered a bone density study. Also referred to as bone mass density scan or bmd scan, it’s a non-invasive scan that uses small amounts of x-ray to measure how strong your bones are.
In the UK, you’ll often hear an osteoporosis bone density test referred to as a DEXA scan – short for ‘Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry’, which is a bit of a mouthful!
The DEXA scan will give you a result called a t score, which is an accurate way to assess your current bone density and future risk of osteoporosis.
How Do I Increase My Bone Density?
If you’ve had tests for bone density and have low bone density, there are definitely some changes you can make to help your bones remain as strong and healthy as possible. Depending on your results, you may also be offered medication.
- Keep physically active in some way every day
Weightbearing activities are the best to promote good bone health, such as walking, climbing stairs, and impact activities such as weightlifting and higher impact workouts. Pilates is a fabulous all-around activity and can be adjusted to suit your physical abilities – send me an email to chat about your individual needs!
- Make sure you are getting enough vitamin D
From sunlight, oily fish, dairy, eggs and foods fortified with additional vitamin D, amongst other sources. Note that during the UK winter, it is not possible to get your full daily requirement of vitamin D from sunshine alone.
- Eat enough calcium
Great sources of calcium include leafy greens (kale, broccoli), dairy products, almonds, soya, oats and certain types of fish such as tinned salmon and sardines.
- Avoid taking substances such as nicotine and alcohol
Both have been identified as increasing an individual’s risk of developing osteoporosis.
Don’t Leave It Til You’re Old!
Did you know that you reach your peak bone mass in your late 20s? It’s a shocker! Don’t wait until you’re over 50 to start thinking about protecting your bones. You can make changes at any stage, but isn’t it better to be preventative ahead of time?
Every year in October, there’s a day set aside to highlight osteoporosis around the world. Here in the UK, The Royal Osteoporosis Society will be promoting it with campaigns to promote awareness and raise funds for research and treatment. Keep an eye on my social media over the month of October for more info and Pilates-related activity ideas.
What You Need To Know About Bone Density
Don’t leave it until you’re experiencing symptoms that indicate a decrease in bone mass to protect your bones. There are so many resources out there to help you to know how to look after your bones well. Please get in touch with me if you’d like to talk about how Pilates can help to maintain good bone health – I’m here for you!
I’d love to hear from you in the comments: what was your top takeaway about osteoporosis?