Peak Bone Mass means our bones have reached their maximum size and strength. This is usually achieved by the age of 25-30 years and it is the greatest amount of bone any individual will attain in their lifetime. Achieving strong bone mass and strength at the end of this vigorous growth period is crucially important to ensuring protection against the risk of osteoporotic fractures that may occur in later life.

Peak bone mass is a significant milestone because the greater the peak bone mass, the more protection one has against developing osteopenia and osteoporosis. After the age of 30 we start losing bone at a steady rate as we age. A person who reaches peak bone mass with lower bone mineral density therefore has less bone to lose and is more likely to develop osteopenia or osteoporosis sooner. Thus, the risk of fractures is greater as life progresses.

Factors determining your Peak Bone Mass

• Genes play a large role in how much peak bone we have. For example, the actual size and structure of a person’s skeleton is determined by genetic factors.
• Although peak bone mass is largely determined by our genes, there are lifestyle factors — such as diet and exercise — that can influence whether we reach our full bone mass potential.
• There is a limited time during which we can influence our peak bone mass. The best time to build bone density is during the youthful years of rapid growth. Childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood are the times when we can significantly increase our peak bone mass through diet and exercise.
• Most people will reach their peak bone mass between the ages of 25 and 30. By the time we reach age 30, we slowly begin to lose bone mass. For most of us, bone loss can be significantly slowed through proper nutrition and regular exercise.
• Although everyone will lose bone with age, people who develop a higher peak bone mass when young are better protected against osteoporosis and related fractures later in life.
• Some people, however, are at higher risk for bone loss and osteoporosis because of problems with the way their bodies remodel bone (the continual process of removing old bone and replacing it with new bone). A healthy diet and exercise can help, but bone will still be lost at a faster rate. The good news is that in recent years, medications have been developed to treat this metabolic problem.
• Gender plays a key role in peak bone mass. Men have a higher peak bone mass than women. Men accumulate more skeletal mass than women do during growth, and their bone width and size is greater. Because women have smaller bones with a thinner cortex and smaller diameter, they are more vulnerable to developing osteoporosis. Although men have a higher peak bone mass, they also are at risk for osteoporosis, especially after age 70 when bone loss and fracture risk increase significantly.
• Medical history is an important factor that may influence bone development and peak bone mass. Either the condition can be influential or the medication prescribed can be problematic. Childhood diseases such as neuromuscular, rheumatic, kidney and liver conditions can influence the development of bone.

Keeping your bone mass strong as you age

There are things we can do at every stage of life to ensure good bone health. Especially important is making sure we get enough calcium and Vitamin D (get out in the sunshine every day!). NOFSA recommends a daily intake of 600-1000 IU of vit D per day.

Exercise is critical for bone health throughout life. What are the most beneficial exercises and what may be less effective? Weight bearing exercises like walking, running, dancing (anything where you bear your own weight and make contact with a hard surface), are good for stimulating bone formation. Muscle strengthening exercises are also needed to maintain muscle mass and to protect the underlying bony structures. Both these need to also be complemented by resistance training to exert muscle pull on bone to help stimulate bone formation.

Love your bones! Make ‘em strong, keep ‘em strong!

NOFSA (National Osteoporosis Foundation South Africa)

NOFSA is the only non-profit, voluntary health organisation dedicated to promoting lifelong bone health. We focus on reducing the widespread prevalence of osteoporosis while working to find a cure for the disease, and by supporting research and developing programmes of education and advocacy.

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