Our bones become less dense as we get older, which increases the likelihood of fractures. It’s a process called osteoporosis, but it’s only a concern for seniors, right? Not so, says Lisa Krumlauf, physical therapist and bone health coordinator for OhioHealth Rehabilitation. Our bone health in old age has a lot to do with good (and bad) choices we make long before. We asked her to walk us through the life cycle of our bones, what has already happened to our skeletons, and how we can maintain bone health going forward.
It’s a pediatric disease?
Krumlauf starts with the adage for osteoporosis: “It’s a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences.” It’s a statement that shifts our traditional understanding of the disease, or at least what brings it about. “Our bones are living tissue, with cells called osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Basically, osteoblasts repair bone, and osteoclasts degrade bone,” she explains. “It’s a natural process that allows bones to grow and strengthen, especially in our younger years when osteoblasts are more active.”
But here’s the kicker: “Much of a youngster’s peak bone mass is developed during the years surrounding puberty for boys and girls,” Krumlauf explains. “By the time you’re 20, 96 percent of your skeleton’s growth is complete. At 30, the activity of both types of cells is generally fairly equal, and from there, bone loss can accelerate as women experience menopause and men’s testosterone levels begin to decline.” Age also brings other factors that can diminish bone strength: sedentary lifestyles, poor nutrition, and even some medications.
“Good” to the bone
Krumlauf says many kids today are missing out on proper bone development. “We have kids who aren’t maximizing bone development during their peak periods. The use of technology — think smartphones — can affect a child’s posture. A lack of optimal nutrition, including overconsumption of caffeinated drinks like many of the popular energy drinks, can interfere with bone development. If you don’t build bone during that time of your life, you leave your skeleton less to work with as you get older. We like to think of this as the ‘bone bank.’”
So what should our kids be doing for spectacular skeletons? Krumlauf says to eat right and jump, jump, jump! “We want kids to be active and jumping. Novel movement and ground reaction forces help build bone density. And we can help kids to choose beverages that are better sources of calcium and vitamin D. Let’s recommend whole foods and less of the processed stuff.”
Old bones can still learn new tricks
Before you declare your bones a lost cause and plop down on the couch, Krumlauf says the same good advice for young people still applies to their parents. “Research is showing that jumping, novel movements and, of course, good nutrition can still be good for developed bones. Avoid risk factors — smoking, too much caffeine — and eat the same healthy diet your kids should be eating.” Her message for older folks: “Protect yourself. Stay active. Engage in exercises that improve your flexibility and balance, and avoid risks for slips and falls.”
Krumlauf and her team are working to get the word out on healthy bones. As a member of OhioHealth’s Bone Health Advisory Group, she meets regularly with colleagues across the OhioHealth system, as well as athletic trainers from area high schools, to discuss the latest bone health research and best practices. “As part of the OhioHealth Bone Health initiative, the group has developed both a clinical one-on-one therapy program as well as a wellness retail program,” she says. “Both are novel approaches to address the growing bone health need within the community.”
To learn more, contact the OhioHealth Bone Health Rehabilitation program at firstname.lastname@example.org.