Bone health: Ways to keep your bones and body healthy as you age

Down the road, as we get older, we all expect to develop a few aches – maybe a shin twinge, creaky elbows, or a sore lower back. But what if you could head off those problems, starting today? Your 30s, 40s, and 50s are a window of opportunity to course-correct any unhelpful habits that hurt your musculoskeletal health. If you make adjustments now, you can avoid surgery and set yourself up for more pain-free days later on. Here is a series of simple steps you can take to protect your musculoskeletal system – your bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints – for years to come.

Bolster your frame

One of the best ways to shore up your skeleton is to choose a diet that includes plenty of calcium and vitamin D, two nutrients essential to strengthening bone tissue. The other crucial move: engaging in weight-bearing exercise – like walking, running, or strength training – a few times a week. These workouts exert a force on your bones that stimulates them to produce new cells. It’s also important to get a bone-density test at some point, to check for weaknesses.

Listen to cues

Working out is vital for so many aspects of your health – just keep in mind, it’s also a major culprit of musculoskeletal damage. Injuries from physical activity either come from doing too much too soon, or not having the correct form. And these exercise injuries can lead to serious issues: They’re one of the top reasons people under 50 need orthopedic surgery.

To avoid sitting on the sidelines, pay attention to your body’s physical signals. Don’t brush off tenderness or push through discomfort. Minor aches should resolve within two weeks, but if they don’t, or you’re feeling numbness, tingling, or you are having trouble walking, bring up your pain or tightness to a trainer or orthopedist ASAP.

Lay off the ice

When you have a slight sprain or you think you pulled a muscle, there’s a good chance you’ll head to the freezer for a bag of peas. For many years, the standard advice for minor injuries has been RICE – rest, ice, compression, and elevation. But it turns out iceÊisn’t always beneficial and can sometimes be harmful. While ice can ease pain within the first 24 to 48 hours, it may delay healing. It constricts blood vessels, which slows down the inflammatory response. Swelling is actually part of the recovery process, as the body increases blood flow and sends white blood cells and fluid to the damaged area in an attempt to repair it.

Slipping on a compression sock or sleeve can help; it’ll squeeze any built-up fluid out of the area. And most docs recommend engaging in gentle movement to prevent your tissues from stiffening up.

Believe in PT

If musculoskeletal pain crops up somewhere in your body and you end up in a doctor’s office, you may be given a choice between drugs (such as painkillers or steroids), surgery, and physical therapy. Many orthopedists recommend trying the latter first: PT helps strengthen the area that’s causing your discomfort and corrects any imbalances that may be contributing to the problem. The therapyÊmay even build up your resilience. It could reeducate your central nervous system to be less sensitive to pain signals.

Sit right

During the pandemic, many of us are spending even more time sitting at home. That could explain a lot about how your body feels. Sitting in one position or with poor posture tightens up many of your muscles, ligaments, and joints, which often leads to soreness and pain.

Here’s how to manage all those hours on your bottom a little better. First, don’t attempt the 90-90-90 posture, with your knees, hips, and elbows all bent at 90 degrees. There’s actually no good evidence that that position is best, and it could result in joint stiffness. Instead, lean back a little in your chair so your hips are bent at an angle slightly greater than 90 degrees. Also, move your feet away from your body a bit so your knees are bent at a greater angle too.

If you’re not working at a desk, choose a stable seat that allows you to sit as upright as possible. A kitchen chair, for example, is better than the couch. And if the seat feels uncomfortable, invest in a gel cushion, which can help prevent soreness and the loss of blood flow caused by some hard surfaces.

Then, every 20 to 30 minutes, get up. The idea is to alternate between sitting and standing. When you’re on two feet, take a short walk, or try hip, neck, and shoulder rolls – and enjoy the stretch.