Make No Bones About It – Keeping Your Bones Healthy and Strong

Halloween brings pumpkins, bats, ghouls and goblins. And we can’t forget the skeletons. Though often serving as a scary decoration or costume, skeletons are nothing to fear. Bones play a vital role in the human body, and there is no better time than the month of October to talk about bone health. The physicians of Gaston Medical Partners are here to break it all down for you (no pun intended).

Let’s Talk About Bones

Bones are living tissue made up of collagen and calcium phosphate. The adult human body contains 206 bones, which provide structure and serve to protect our organs. Ever wonder why it seems like children heal quicker from broken bones than adults? New bone replaces old bone at a faster rate during childhood and teenage years, contributing to your overall bone mass. Girls reach their peak bone mass earlier than boys, at age 18, with boys reaching it at age 20, although bone mass can keep growing through your late 20s. The higher your starting bone mass, the less likely you are to suffer from bone diseases, like osteopenia and osteoporosis.

Osteopenia vs. Osteoporosis

Bones become thinner as you age, and the condition osteopenia refers to bones that have weakened, but not to the point of breaking. If osteopenia does occur, it’s usually not until after age 50, and treatment can help prevent it from turning into the more severe bone disease, osteoporosis.

Over 53 million people in the United States have either already been diagnosed with osteoporosis or find themselves at an increased risk of it due to lower bone mass and deteriorated bone tissue. Both men and women can be affected by osteoporosis, but women are at a greater risk. It affects 25% of women ages 65 and up compared to 5% of men ages in the same age range. A diagnosis of osteoporosis may not be known until after someone breaks a bone, with the most common injuries occurring in the wrist, hip and spine

Why Are Women More Likely to Get Osteoporosis?

Based on their overall size, women have less bone tissue than men. The hormonal changes that come in the first few years after menopause, due to lack of estrogen, also contribute to faster bone deterioration. Women of white and Asian backgrounds are at highest risk.

Can You Do Anything to Help Your Overall Bone Health?

There are several things that you can do to keep your bones strong and help ward off osteoporosis:

  • Remain physically active with strength-building and weight-bearing exercises. 
  • Avoid tobacco use and excess alcohol.
  • Review the medications you are taking to see if they can affect your bones.
  • Know your family history, in case you are at increased risk. 
  • Make sure your diet contains enough calcium. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day, increasing to 1,200 mg a day for women over age 50 and men age over age 70. Calcium-rich foods include dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt), leafy greens like spinach or kale, seeds, almonds, edamame and tofu, beans and lentils, and foods that may be fortified with calcium (think orange juice). Fun fact: Your bones and teeth contain 99% of your body’s total calcium, with the rest being in your blood.
  • Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. The RDA is 600 international units (IUs) a day, increasing to 800 IUs a day for adults age 71 and older. If you worry that you aren’t getting enough vitamin D from sunlight or food choices like fatty fish, eggs or foods fortified with it, you can get your levels checked and consider adding a supplement to your diet.

If you have any questions about your risk factors for osteoporosis or to find out if early screening is right for you, speak to your primary care doctor. Until then, be aware of the things you can begin doing to help keep your bones strong and healthy. And during Halloween season and all year long, remember there’s more to a skeleton than meets the eye.

Practical Health Tips for Women

Every October, we are surrounded by pink for Breast Cancer Awareness, a reminder to women about the importance of preventative screening. Annual mammograms are recommended for women beginning at age 40 (those with a family history of breast cancer may choose to start earlier). But what about other health conditions that impact women? The physicians at Gaston Medical Partners are here to provide some tips on ways for women to stay healthy (and happy!).

Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease

While breast cancer may be more top of mind in October, heart disease is actually the leading cause of death in women (accounting for one out of every five deaths). Heart disease, also referred to as cardiovascular disease, includes any condition affecting the heart, such as heart attacks and stroke.

Key risk factors contributing to heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol (specifically LDL, known as “bad” cholesterol that can clog arteries, and triglycerides, which are a type of fat in the blood), diabetes and smoking. The good news for women is that establishing healthy habits can help lower your risk. Staying on top of your health with an annual wellness visit will ensure that you’re aware of your blood pressure, cholesterol breakdown and overall glucose level, in case any lifestyle modifications are needed, or if medicine could be beneficial.

Healthy Habits First

In establishing the most healthy lifestyle, try to incorporate the habits below.

Eat Right
Eat a healthy, varied diet that includes fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, with a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber. Try to limit processed foods and be aware of the amount of saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol you are consuming, as well as your salt and sugar intake. The kinds of foods you eat can have a direct impact on your blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose and weight (adult women should have a body mass index ranging from 18.5 to 24.9). A well-balanced diet will supply your body with the proper fuel and the right amount of vitamins and minerals (vitamin supplements are generally not needed if you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet). For healthy snacking ideas, check out some recommendations from the physicians at Gaston Medical Partners. 

Stay Hydrated
Women should make sure to stay hydrated, aiming to drink 11.5 cups of liquid a day (80% from drinks and the rest from food). Proper signs of hydration include not feeling thirsty throughout the day, with colorless or light yellow urine.

Move Your Body
Incorporating regular exercise into your routine is so important for overall health. Exercise can help you manage your weight and lowers your risk of heart disease, as well as certain kinds of cancer. Women should aim for 150 minutes of activity a week, which includes any kind of moderate activity–think a brisk walk around the neighborhood, riding bikes, dancing or playing basketball. Gaston Medical has suggestions for ways to incorporate activity at home. In addition to all of the health benefits, exercise literally helps you “feel” good, as it releases endorphins. 

Check Your Vices
Smoking has already been mentioned as a key risk factor contributing to heart disease, but it’s also linked to many other health issues, including lung cancer and emphysema. If you’re thinking about quitting, remember that your body starts to begin the healing process 20 minutes after your last cigarette! Speak to your doctor about a cessation program or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

While drinking in moderation is fine, excessive alcohol consumption is linked to many health issues that impact the liver, brain and heart, as well as put you at an increased risk of breast cancer. It is recommended that women consume no more than one alcoholic beverage a day.

Mental Health
There is no time like the middle of a global pandemic to remind ourselves about the importance of our mental health. Women today have increased daily stressors that can negatively affect the body, impacting overall mood and behavior. Left unchecked, stress can contribute to larger health issues. Try to take time for yourself to connect with friends and family, and spend time doing a hobby you enjoy. Eating right and exercising, as mentioned above, also help with managing stress.

It’s Bedtime
Kids never seem to want to nap or go to bed at night, but it’s something that most adults wish would be forced on them! Adults should aim to get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night to help prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and even stroke.

Sun Safety
With skin cancer being the most common cancer, it is important to protect your skin when outside, starting at a very young age. When selecting a sunscreen, look for one with broad spectrum protection, which helps block both UVA and UVB rays. Read up on six ways to stay safe in the sun.

Don’t Put Off Preventative Care

It’s important for both you and your primary care physician to be aware of your family health history, as you may choose to begin preventative screening at an earlier age (think cholesterol panel, mammogram, colonoscopy, etc.). Annual wellness visits will help you keep up-to-date on this and any necessary vaccines, as well as routine bloodwork and a physical exam. Our goal at Gaston Medical Partners is to keep you feeling healthy and happy.