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11 Sep

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

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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  1. 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.

    BamaGal wrote on September 11th, 2007
  2. 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?

    Oxybeles wrote on September 11th, 2007
  3. 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.

    Mark Sisson wrote on September 11th, 2007
  4. 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. Just from a trainers pov.

    That and get out in the sun for your Vit D daily. I am sure all that flourescent lighting is just sucking the life out of our bones.

    Also more alkaline vegetables and less acidic grains and dairy. So our body doesn’t have to take magnesium and calcium from our body to balance our PH.

    Mike OD wrote on September 11th, 2007
  5. 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.

    Brian A wrote on September 14th, 2007
  6. 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.

    Mark Sisson wrote on September 14th, 2007
  7. 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 also present in your body, you may be simply excreting the calcium supplement you are taking. Magnesium plays as much a role in bone density as calcium. Magnesium will act as a bonding agent that binds calcium, fluorine and other important minerals to build bone. Take a daily maximum amount of magnesium, at least 350 – 400 mg a day is suggested for healthy bones.

    Do something about osteoporosis before it dose something to you. Drugs for osteoporosis are not miracles. These drugs have harmful side effects and limited benefits. The best medicine for this potentially crippling condition is prevention by taking supplements.

    Tristen Thomas

    Tristen wrote on April 21st, 2009
  8. 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.

    hiker wrote on October 1st, 2010
  9. 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 fed grains, because phosphorus is transported into the grain part and calcium stays in the leaves) and a general lack of nutrition…especially when consuming phytates every day (Chocolate, Coffee, Beans, Grains, Nuts for example).
    On top of it pasteurized milk turns bio-available calcium into calcium carbonate which is chalk and not easily turned into the chelated form it needs to be to be absorbed.

    Donnersberg wrote on April 16th, 2011
  10. 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.


    Your supplement ‘Damage Control’ seems to fit alot of needs that I feel are oftentimes overlooked in terms of antioxidant intake and joint support. Its basically the ‘do most’ supplement I’ve been looking for.


    Its listed as having calcium carbonate within it.

    I have yet to see any information on either side of the ‘health’ community vouching for this specific form of calcium as being ‘good’ for anyone.

    Is it used as a binder in your supplement or is it listed due to it being a remnant of a the isolation process from another mineral/nutrient within Damage Control?

    What are your thoughts on calcium carbonate and its effect on humans compared to other forms. Each legitimate health book and website I read/have read specifically says to stay away from it.

    Please Help,



    Ed wrote on July 30th, 2013

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