By 2nd Lt. Carolyn GreeneApril 4, 2019
MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. -- Bones are an important part of the human body. They give structure and strength and allow people to move and do normal activities. Bones also protect organs from harm. Certain nutrients are stored in bones and are needed to keep the body running. When our needs are not met, we become at risk of injuries that can have serious effects on our well-being. Since the Soldier's body is his or her greatest weapon, bone health should be a priority to protect against these negative consequences.
Two major nutrients in bone are calcium and magnesium. Your body can store extra calcium and magnesium from your diet in the bones, like a bank. Then, it can pull these nutrients from the bones as it uses them. Calcium keeps your heart and muscles pumping, and magnesium is a part of many processes in the body, like making DNA.
The food you eat affects bone health. Calcium is found in milk, including fortified nut milks, and dark leafy green vegetables. Vitamin D is also needed to keep your bones healthy -- it helps the body absorb calcium. This vitamin is found in fortified milk and orange juice, fatty fishes and egg yolk.
Adults should aim for about 1000 milligrams of calcium daily to meet their needs. To convert percent calcium on a food label to milligrams, drop off the percent sign and add a zero. For example, a cup of almond milk that provides 45 percent calcium has 450 milligrams.
Low calcium intake and vitamin D levels can lead to some serious problems. Soldiers may be most concerned with stress fractures, but older adults may develop osteoporosis, or brittle bones -- this could lead to fractures from falls.
Bone health is especially important for those in the military. Between physical readiness training and field time, Soldiers are an active group. Bone injuries can keep a Soldier out of training for weeks to months and could be career ending. While stress fractures can happen to anyone, women are two times more likely to get stress fractures than men, and they need to pay special attention to bone health.
Sara Young, a performance dietitian at Madigan Army Medical Center, says, "Active populations are more at risk for calcium deficiency because exercise has been shown to deplete calcium stores." She recommends that active people should pay attention to how much calcium they are getting and take a supplement if food is not enough.
Bone health does not stop at nutrition. Weight bearing exercise is another part of building up your bones. When bones are stressed, they "remodel" and absorb more calcium. The official Physical Activity Guidelines, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommends that adults ages 18 to 64 should do resistance exercises two times per week, with one to three sets of eight to 12 reps of each exercise.
Taking good care of your bones is important for your health. Not getting enough of the right nutrients can have negative effects on Soldiers' careers and may also affect them as older adults. Thankfully, nutrition and exercise are two ways soldiers can improve their bone density, hopefully lowering their risk of injury.