As boys move through their teen years they achieve maximum height and bone length, but the density of their bones continues to increase until they reach about 30 years of age. After age 30 their bones tend to start losing density.
This arc of bone building/bone loss makes the first three decades of life the best time to focus on building strong bones.
While many unalterable factors affect bone density (such as genetic disposition), many other factors that add to or subtract from bone strength are within an individual’s control.
Lifestyle Factors that Strengthen Bone
What lifestyle changes can a man, or adolescent boy, do to stack the deck in favor of better bone health and increased bone density later in life?
- Avoid smoking. Smoking (and any form of nicotine intake) weakens bones by reducing the blood supply for bones, slowing the production of bone-growing cells (osteoblasts), and hurting the body’s ability to absorb calcium. Over time, smoking weakens bones to the point of increasing the risk of fracture.
- Moderate alcohol consumption. A drink or two every now and then is fine, but excessive drinking presents a number of health risks. Although it is not known exactly how significant alcohol intake affects bone health, the correlation is clear. Moreover, alcohol has little if any nutritional benefits and, because it is a depressant, may undercut the motivation to exercise or eat healthfully.
Read more about Smoking and Alcohol Use with Osteoporosis.
- Engage in weight-bearing, strengthening exercise or activity. Bones, like muscles, need stress and weight bearing exercise to make them strong. High impact activities such as jogging and running, skiing, or most of the ball sports -- such as basketball, football and soccer, tennis and handball -- adequately stress bones, provided a player’s physical condition can tolerate this level of activity. If not, exercise walking or some kinds of weightlifting can provide the stress needed to test and maintain bone strength. Physicians typically recommend 3 to 5 sessions of at least 20 to 25 minutes a week to get the benefits needed.
- Eat/drink calcium and Vitamin D. Drinking about 3 glasses of milk each day, or eating other low fat dairy products such as yogurt and cheese, or other foods rich in calcium, will help build and maintain bone strength. As a possible backstop, a multivitamin that contains calcium will also help. A daily calcium intake of 1000mg is recommended for men ages 25 through 65. Vitamin D is necessary for absorption of calcium; a 10 to 15 minute stroll in the sun provides adequate exposure, but supplements of 400 or 600 IU a day will work also.
Read more about Calcium and Vitamin D for Osteoporosis.
- Make sure to attend regular check-ups with the doctor. Certain factors in one’s medical history or physical examination may prompt the doctor to do further testing. For example, a history of a pituitary tumor or testicular disease may require further testing that may reveal a low plasma testosterone level. A low testosterone level left untreated may lead to early osteoporosis as well as other problems.