The Skeletal System
How Does Aging Affect Our Bones?

The human skeletal system is composed of 206 bones which shape the body and allow us to move. It serves as protection for our soft organs such as the brain, lungs, and heart and provides muscle attachment for motion.

The bones store many minerals like calcium and phosphorus and produce red blood cells.

Bone is composed of four layers:

  1. The periosteum is a dense fibrous membrane of nerves and blood vessels that covers the surface of bones except at the joints. It nourishes the bone and serves as an attachment for the muscles and tendons.
  2. The cortical bone is the hard outer wall of the bone.
  3. The cancellous bone is a spongy interior bone tissue. It is less dense, softer, and more flexible than the outer layer.
  4. The bone marrow is the soft, fatty tissue that occupies the cavity of most bones and is responsible for blood cell production.


Skeletal System Diagram copyright © 1996 by John Green

What Happens to the skeletal system as we age?

Bone is living tissue that changes constantly. Old bone tissue dies and is replaced by new bone tissue. The human skeleton grows and strengthens until about the age of 18 in women and 21 in men. Bone mass, which is the amount of bone tissue in the skeleton, continues to grow until about the age of 30.

  • After the age of 30 our bones gradually deteriorate.
  • The first few years after menopause, bone loss is especially rapid.
  • Bone density decreases and bones become thinner and more fragile.
  • Bones lose calcium and other minerals.
  • Posture can become progressively hunched over as the spinal vertebrae and the discs between them become thinner and compressed due to loss of minerals and moisture.
  • Joints may become inflamed and less flexible as fluid in joints decrease and cartilage erodes. This is especially common in knee and hip joints.
  • Joints can become stiff due to mineral deposits (bone calcification), common in the shoulders.
  • Movement slows down and may become limited and unstable.
  • Risk of injury increases due to a combination of instability and brittle bones.

Common skeletal disorders

Osteopenia and osteoporosis - both are conditions that cause low bone density, but with osteoporosis, bones are more fragile with a high risk of fracture.

Arthritis and other chronic joint problems - is a group of diseases that can cause pain, stiffness and swelling in joints.

How to maintain strong bones

Nutrition - A diet rich in calcium, magnesium and vitamin D is important for maintaining healthy, strong bones. Follow a healthy diet plan that includes all the food groups. Fruits and vegetables are just as important for building strong bones as dairy products. Avoid processed foods.

Regular Exercise – Exercise helps increase bone density at every age. The best exercise for strengthening bones is weight bearing exercise, also referred to as weight training or strength training. Stretching is very important to help maintain flexibility.

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