In total, the human body consists of 206 bones. Our bones are not only important in forming the shape and structure of our bodies, but they are also crucial in providing our bodies with support. Without bones, our bodies would essentially collapse. Every bone that is within our skeletal system also has its own important function. For example, many of our bones surround vital but fragile organs, such as the heart, lungs and brain, as well as protect our central nervous system, working as a protectant to them; while other bones, such as those in our arms and legs, are what allow us to move and provide support to our muscles.

As you age, your bones become weaker. This is usually the result if your body reabsorbing calcium and phosphate from your bones as opposed to keeping these minerals in your bones. This process of bone loss is known as osteoporosis, and has four stages:

Stage 1: This stage typically occurs between the ages of 30 and 35 and is characterized as the initial start of bone breakdown but has no visible symptoms.
Stage 2: Occurring after the age of 35, bone breakdown occurs at a faster pace. Like stage 1, stage 2 also has no visible symptoms but it can often be detected through a bone-density test.
Stage 3: Occurring anywhere after the ages of 45 through 55, the bones are much thinner and can easily fracture or break from the inability to withstand stress that is put on them. Stage 3 is the most common stage in which cases of osteoporosis are diagnosed.
Stage 4: You are much more susceptible to bone fractures and breaks, spine deformities are more obvious, and you can experience an increase in pain as well as have trouble moving around and doing your everyday activities.

One of the most common causes of mild bone loss (osteoporosis) in women is a drop in estrogen – particularly at the time of menopause, while a major cause of bone loss in men is a drop in testosterone. Aside from osteoporosis, there are many different causes and conditions that can potentially contribute to bone loss, and it can even run in families. Bone loss can also develop without any obvious reason or known cause.

When it comes to strengthening the bones, lifestyle plays an important role – especially exercise. Examples of exercise that are good for strengthening the bones include weight training, walking or jogging, and yoga. Even playing your favourite sport, such as tennis, or dancing, can also be considered exercise and will help strengthen the bones. You should also limit your caffeine intake, as this can decrease your body’s calcium absorption, as well as limit your intake of alcohol. If you are going to drink caffeinated beverages such as coffee, then you should have no more than 2 to 3 cups per day. Additionally, bad habits such as smoking can also cause bone loss much quicker than in those who are non-smokers, so you should speak to your physician about quitting as he or she will be able to provide you with some helpful smoking cessation tips.

To increase your calcium intake, try consuming more calcium-rich foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese. Non-dairy sources of calcium, such as canned salmon, leafy green vegetables, nuts, beans, seeds, and fortified soy or rice beverages can also be beneficial. To help absorb calcium you also need vitamin D. Examples of foods that are rich in vitamin D include fortified orange juice, fatty fish, margarine, and egg yolks. Those over the age of 50 are recommended to take a vitamin D supplement of at least 400 IU each day. Other nutrients like vitamin K, potassium, magnesium and protein are also important in helping your body with the absorption and use of calcium, as well as with helping build muscle to help keep your bones strong.