How to Build and Maintain Healthy Bones

1. Be physically active.

No other facet of your life has greater impact on the health of your bones.

Your body is designed to adapt all of your organs – your bones included – to your specific needs. If you are physically active, your body will work to make your bones as strong and flexible as possible with its resources. If you lead a relatively sedentary lifestyle, your body will not work to produce and maintain strong and flexible bones since your lifestyle is not signaling a need for such bones.

Being physically active doesn’t mean that you have to jog “x” number of miles per day or attend aerobics classes at your local gym three times a week. If you are regularly doing chores around your living and work areas, walking or biking when you can instead of taking your car, and finding other ways to go about your daily routine while being physically active, there is no need to make time to “exercise,” since you are already exercising for most of the day. If you spend most of your day sitting for long stretches at a time, for the sake of building and maintaining healthy bones, you should incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine.

2. Stretch your largest muscle groups daily.

A regular stretching program can help ensure that your muscles, tendons, and ligaments stay at healthy lengths.

A sedentary lifestyle and/or lack of stretching can cause gradual shortening of muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and since these tissues insert into your bones, when they shorten, they can actually put significant stress on their insertion points. This is a primary mechanism of bone spur (osteophytes) development.

Foam rolling your biggest muscle groups is an excellent adjunct to stretching, and can almost certainly help keep your bones and soft tissues healthy.

3. Eat mineral-rich foods.

Your body needs much more than calcium supplements to build and maintain healthy bones. When you consider that your bones are comprised of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc, iron, silica, and many other trace minerals, it should be clear that eating mineral-rich foods is far superior to taking calcium-based supplements.

Generally speaking, green vegetables and herbs are the healthiest, mineral-rich foods that you can eat. If you want to ensure that you are actually getting the minerals in green vegetables and herbs into your bloodstream to become available to your bones and other organs, you must be mindful of chewing these plants thoroughly. Thorough chewing helps to ensure that the protective cell walls that surround all plant cells are sufficiently broken to allow your bones and other tissues to have access to the many minerals contained within those cells.

Drinking freshly pressed vegetable juices and well blended green smoothies are other ways of ensuring that you actually get the minerals in green vegetables and herbs into your bloodstream.

Use of high quality green food powders can also help provide your bloodstream and bones with a rich supply of minerals.

4. Consider drinking mineral-rich broths.

Broths that are made by simmering bones and a variety of vegetables for an hour or longer are a fantastic source of calcium and other minerals that can be used to keep your bones strong and flexible.

Mineral-rich broths are a chief source of dietary calcium in east Asian countries like China and Korea, where many people are unable to fully digest dairy products. These broths take significant time and effort to make on a regular basis, but they nourish your bones (and the rest of your organs) like few other foods can.

5. Ensure adequate vitamin D status.

Adequate amounts of vitamin D must be present in your body for calcium in your foods to be optimally absorbed and used.

When the weather is warm and sunlight is readily present, the best way to ensure adequate vitamin D status is to expose your skin to sunlight on a regular basis without getting burned. Sunlight acts on cholesterol found in your skin to produce vitamin D. Your body destroys any excess vitamin D that is made in this fashion when it has made enough for your needs. Please keep in mind that use of a sunscreen with an SPF of 8 or higher can prevent sunlight from acting on cholesterol in your skin to produce vitamin D.

When the weather is cool and sunlight is not readily available, the best way to ensure adequate vitamin D status is to eat one or more foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D on a regular basis. Different varieties of fish like wild salmon and sardines are good food sources of natural vitamin D. High quality cod liver oil is another good food source of natural vitamin D.

6. Eat high quality fats and cholesterol.

Consumption of high quality fats optimizes the absorption of vitamins A and D into your bloodstream. And vitamin A is needed to keep your intestinal lining healthy and readily able to absorb minerals in the foods that you eat. For these reasons, it’s virtually impossible to have optimally healthy bones and teeth without including healthy fats in your diet.

Here are some examples of foods that are rich in healthy fats:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Organic eggs from cage-free birds
  • Soaked nuts and seeds (about a handful per day at most)
  • Cold-water fish and high quality fish oils
  • Coconuts and coconut oil
  • Bone broths
  • Organically raised red and white meats (should be eaten sparingly if eaten at all – with proper planning, there is no physiological requirement for red and white meats)

Healthy cholesterol is also needed for a healthy intestinal lining that is able to optimally absorb minerals into your bloodstream. Healthy dietary cholesterol can help ensure adequate cholesterol status in your system so that sunlight has enough cholesterol to act on to produce vitamin D. While your body is capable of producing cholesterol from other nutrients, it makes sense to ensure adequate cholesterol levels via intake of healthy cholesterol.

7. Learn how to effectively manage emotional stress.

Chronic emotional stress can elevate the level of cortisol in your blood. Cortisol is useful for combating stress, but if it remains elevated in your system over the long term, it can cause the matrix of your bones to weaken. Corticosteroid drugs can also weaken your bones and cause osteoporosis if used in large quantities and/or over the long term.

8. Avoid regular consumption of foods that may cause your bones to lose calcium.

Acid-forming foods are foods that bring the pH of your blood down. Because you cannot survive if the pH of your blood moves outside a very narrow range (7.35 to 7.45), your body must buffer the effects of acid-forming foods to maintain a healthy blood pH level. One of the main ways in which your body buffers acid-forming foods is to take calcium from your bones and use it to neutralize the remnants of acid-forming foods. If your body is repeatedly forced to do this, your bones may be weakened.

Foods that are strongly acid-forming in your blood and should not be staples in your diet include:

  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Soft drinks (pop)
  • Sugar
  • Cookies, cakes, and pastries made with white flour
  • Table salt
  • Alcohol

9. Eat foods that are rich in vitamin C.

Collagen is a long, fibrous protein that is critical to providing your bones with tensile strength. In short, the more quality collagen that you have in your bones, the more physical stress that your bones can tolerate before breaking.

Your body needs vitamin C to synthesize collagen. Please note that there is a big difference between the full vitamin C complex found in real foods and synthetic forms of vitamin C found in many nutritional supplements. Some excellent food sources of real vitamin C are:

  • Organic goji berries
  • Bell peppers
  • Citrus fruits
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Acerola cherries

I hope that this post makes it clear that your bones are active organs that are slowly supported or eroded by every food and lifestyle choice that you make. Addressing osteoporosis with a calcium supplement or drug without regard for your overall health will not allow you to build and maintain the healthiest bones that your genetics and upbringing will allow. If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, please note that in early stages, weakened bones can become fully healthy again if you consistently make the good choices in the days ahead.