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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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September 11, 2007

Age Well, Avoid Osteoporosis: It’s Easier Than You Think

By Mark Sisson

Few things are more important to your longevity than bone health. Your bones are living tissues that require adequate nutrition and exercise just as your muscular system does. Compelling research indicates that your bones appear to play a role in metabolism, hormone production, and immunity. In fact, a recent study posits that the skeletal system appears to be a part of the endocrine system (with implications for type 2 diabetes). And significantly, bone health is critical to manage as we age. Despite our ability to “get milk” (and cheese, and yogurt, and cream), Americans suffer from high rates of osteoporosis. It seems unbelievable, but a fall or a fracture can have fatal implications – in fact, fractures are the #1 cause of death in people over 65.

There are several key factors in mitigating bone loss. Though the dairy industry has been powerfully effective in establishing calcium as the essential component of bone health, I fear this has probably hurt us more than it’s helped. I’m certainly not diminishing the importance of calcium here, but all you have to do is look at our high rates of osteoporosis, fracture fatalities in the senior population, and perhaps even the type 2 diabetes epidemic to realize it takes more than a glass of milk or a calcium chew to maintain the bones. Think of it this way: your body’s muscle tissue requires various amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and physical activity to avoid wasting away. You know that you need a nutritious diet, a diligent exercise regimen, and rest in order to maintain sufficient lean muscle mass. It is no different for your skeletal system. That osseous matrix of yours requires a similarly comprehensive approach. Proper maintenance of your bones is one of the key factors in aging well.

In brief:

– You need much more than calcium. Forget the milk and focus on prudent supplementation and several vegetable servings at every meal. Magnesium, potassium and especially vitamin D are essential. (A new study reported today points out that vitamin D intake increases longevity.) There’s evidence that vitamin K plays a role in bone health, as well. This is why I recommend a good multi-vitamin supplement, copious intake of fresh greens, as well as daily brief sunlight exposure.

– You absolutely cannot avoid the weight-bearing activity, folks. Resistance is essential to maintaining bone density. This is really the most important thing you can do. It’s the closest thing to a health panacea and life-extender we’ve got. Americans get plenty of dairy in their diets, yet again, our osteoporosis rates are obscene. Many cultures around the world consume little, if any dairy, yet do not come close to our osteoporosis rates. Why? Simple: we don’t exercise. The phrase “move it or lose it” is cliche, but it’s the truth.

Further reading:

8 Essential Aging Hacks

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10 Comments on "Age Well, Avoid Osteoporosis: It’s Easier Than You Think"


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9 years 11 months ago

I agree with you on the calcium, magnesium, Vitamin D—but phosphorus competes with calcium in the body. Zinc is another good supplement—it helps in the activation of vitamin D in the body.

9 years 11 months ago

What does recommend for the elderly in the *0 Year Category when it comes to exercise? Clearly walking, but what form of resistance training is reasonable?

Mark Sisson
9 years 11 months ago

Bamagal…of course…Thanks for catching that.

Oxy, walking is weight-bearing activity. Hiking. Light weights – doesn’t have to be too strenuous. E.g. 5 pound hand weights, or walk with ankle weights, etc. Hope that helps.

Mike OD
9 years 11 months ago
I agree with using real resistance. Heavy stress on the bones will generate the neccessary response for the bones needing to be stronger and thicker. I would say the most important and safe for anyone (if they know real technique) is the bar deadlift. It can be 30 lbs…or 300lb…once you learn how to do it, it’s amazing the results and bone building stimulus one can get. There is no such thing as a dangerous compound exercise in my book, just someone who is doing it completely wrong or lacks the proper instruction. Doing machine curls aint gonna cut it.… Read more »
Brian A
Brian A
9 years 11 months ago

Seems like ankle weights and 5lb. dumbbells would be too light to gain any real improvements. So my bones go from being able to handle X to being able to handle X+5lbs – how does that help me? It might be a place to start, but the prescription should be the same as any other strength-building routine – increase the resistance over time for real benefits. One only has to search for the stories about 60- or 70-year old bodybuilders to find that there’s no reason seasoned citizens should ‘take it easy’ with such light weights.

Mark Sisson
9 years 11 months ago

Brian, yes, you’re right on all counts. Without having details for a specific individual I am making a general recommendation, with the assumption being this would work for someone just getting started with exercise.

8 years 3 months ago
Combat Osteoporosis with Calcium and Magnesium The risk of osteoporosis factors in when you are female and older. Nutritional supplements can help you avoid osteoporosis, no matter what risk factors you may have. Calcium and Magnesium work together and if you add in exercise you’ll build bone even better. Supplements need to be taken throughout your lifetime. Women who are in postmenopausal and do not take calcium supplements lose approximately 2% of bone mass per year. Taking 1,000 to 1,600 mg of calcium supplement a day decreases this rate to 1%, and reduces bone fractures by 50%! Unless magnesium is… Read more »
6 years 10 months ago

When you walk, wear a day pack/back pack and gradually add weight. When I came back from my thru hike of the Colorado Trail in 2006, I had bone growths on my collar bone from my backpack straps. Even though my mom has osteoporosis, I no longer fear being a victim.

6 years 4 months ago
Weston A Price describes exactly what Nutrients are needed for healthy bones and teeth. Your teeth are the window into your bone health. Fat-soluble vitamins A, D3, E and K2 + ALL minerals in the correct ratio. Calcium – Phosphorus ratio is completely out of wack in the USA. PH has to be stable with only slight changes that are easily corrected by the very foods you just consumed so your own reserve is left alone. Nowadays we tend to consume too many things that make us too acidic (e.g. sugar), too high in phosphorus (most sodas and every animal… Read more »
4 years 20 days ago
Dear Mark, quick question regarding your Damage Control Supplement Appreciate the blog and all the things you’re doing to ‘push back’ at all the unhealthiness that is thrust into our lives from a young age. I am a former college athlete and wish to maintain my current active lifestyle (climbing, surfing, mtb, crssfit, etc) until my death as an old man working my own field. As such, I read a lot and always maintain a science mindset that as new and higher quality information becomes available, I’m fully open to putting it to use. QUESTION: Your supplement ‘Damage Control’ seems… Read more »