Bone Health and Running as We Age

A man wears a Fleet Feet shirt while running

4 Tips for Optimal Bone Health

Running is good for your bones. Yep, that’s right, it is. And that’s because running is a weight-bearing sport, meaning that, with every step you take, your body works against gravity building bone. However, simply running isn’t enough to ensure healthy internal scaffolding for years to come.

So, what are you to do? We looked to Dr. Keith McCormick, avid endurance athlete and author of “The Whole-Body Approach to Osteoporosis” for insight. Here are the four tips for better bone health as we age.

Head into your golden years with an adequate supply of bone by spending your 20s and early 30s building it.

After age 35, it’s natural to lose bone; it’s simply human genetics. But, a lack of adequate bone reserve leading up to that point is the main reason people end up with osteoporosis.

The best ways to build bone, he says, are exercise (a combination of running and weight training is perfect), optimal protein intake (this depends on your weight and activity level, but between 60 and 80 grams per day is a good gauge), and consuming lots of vegetables (more on that later).

Decrease systemic inflammation and manage stress levels with a balanced training plan.

Start now by incorporating more recovery time into your training plan. Running is important and so is the time in between lace-ups (check out our post on sleep).

“Training is great; overtraining is not,” says McCormick. “Sure, people know that overtraining stresses adrenals, but they often don’t know it’s bad for the bones and has long-lasting health ramifications.”

In fact, some bone cells (called osteoclasts) are part of your immune system. So, when your immune system switches into overdrive from too much running, you experience systemic inflammation, and your body goes into “osteoclastic mode,” which means it starts to tear down bone, a guaranteed symptom of overtraining.

So, to stay in the green, focus on a balanced exercise program that incorporates a healthy amount of rest and easy runs to recover from hard efforts, combined with a group atmosphere to cut down on stress—another precursor to systemic inflammation.

To curb inflammation another way, McCormick suggests identifying any food sensitives you have and eliminating them from your diet. Then, consider incorporating inflammation-reducing supplements to help your body regain balance (check with your doctor to see which vitamins and minerals are best for you).

Eat MORE veggies regularly and consume protein after a hard workout.

We all grew up thinking milk was necessary for long-term bone health. Turns out vegetables have a lot to offer, too. While many—like kale, collard greens, arugula, broccoli, beet greens, kelp, and more—have high levels of calcium, they protect against bone deficiency for other reasons, too.

“When you work out, you produce hydrogen ions, which make your body acidic,” Dr. McCormick says. “Eat more vegetables to improve your alkalinity and add a buffering capacity. The more acidic you are, the more you stimulate the osteoclasts.” (And, remember, those are the immune-system cells that, when active, take your body into bone-breakdown mode.)

Plus, McCormick further suggests taking in protein right after a workout (10 to 15 grams) to help your body repair immediately, reduce stress and, therefore, reduce osteoclastic activity.

Spend time in the sun to absorb Vitamin D.

It’s important to wear sunscreen and protect yourself from harmful UV rays. It’s also important to load up on Vitamin D, a necessary ingredient for optimal calcium absorption. Absorbing Vitamin D from sunlight is still the best natural source, but often only during summer months. You may need to supplement with Vitamin D in your diet during the fall, winter, and in certain northern climates. Check with your doctor for more information about Vitamin D.