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9 Secret Signs Your Bones Are in Trouble

Know the signs before it’s too late.

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Your nails are brittle

Broken nails are an annoyance, but if you’re noticing that your nails are breaking more often than normal it might be cause for concern. Your nails can turn brittle for a number of reasons, but the two most prominent ones are collagen and calcium deficiencies. Collagen is a protein that supports your skin, connective tissue, and skeleton. You can keep it healthy with foods, like berries, leafy greens, soy, and citrus. Calcium is a mineral that’s integral to bone health—besides dairy, you can also get calcium from dark leafy greens and sardines. If you’re lacking either of these skeletal superheroes, you’re likely to see the negative results in your manicure.

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You don’t exercise

If you spend most of your time in front of a computer and on the couch, you’re probably at higher risk for developing osteoporosis. Exercise helps build not only strong muscles but strong bones as well, according to the Surgeon General. When you exercise—especially when you lift weights and do weight-bearing cardio like jogging or stair-climbing—you help preserve your skeleton. Try getting up from your desk and walking around the office at least once every hour, go on a walk or jog after work, and make time to hit the gym in the early mornings to lift weights. Just don’t make this workout mistake that actually weakens your bones.

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Your gums are receding

You won’t necessarily spot receding gums because it happens over years. Your gums recede as your jawbone loses strength and bone mass. Your jawbone is the anchor of your teeth, so when it weakens, your gums can detach from your teeth (yikes!). A major sign of receding gums is if you start losing teeth. As you age, ask your dentist to check up on your gum health during your routine visits. Even if you don’t have gum trouble, you’ll still want to keep up with preventive measures like flossing and brushing regularly; you can also strengthen your jaw by chewing gum. Find out 30 more ways to increase bone density.

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You’re getting shorter

Unfortunately, losing height as you age is not a myth. It happens when your bone mass decreases and the cartilage between your bones wears down from years and years of heavy use. Getting shorter doesn’t always mean your bones are in trouble, “but it can indicate a weakening of the muscles around your spine,” says Dr. Susan E. Brown of the Center for Better Bones. “Since bone and muscle work in one unit and typically gain and lose strength in synchrony, it’s likely that a loss in muscle is connected to an eventual loss in bone.”

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You have poor grip strength

Pickle jars aren’t easy to open for anyone, but if you’re noticing that your grip is worse than usual, it might be time to call the doctor and see if you have bone loss. In a study performed on post-menopausal women, researchers found that handgrip strength was the most important test in determining overall bone mineral density. There’s a link between your grip strength and the bone density in your hip, spine, and forearm. It sounds strange, but just remember the song, “Dem Bones” (“the toe bone is connected to the foot bone”): Weakness in the bones of your hand can signal weakness elsewhere. One way to protect your bones—and increase your grip strength—is by strength training. Check out 14 wonderful things that happen to your body when you begin lifting weights.

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You got a fracture—when you shouldn’t have

A big sign of bone weakness and bone loss can be a fracture: If you break, say, an ankle in a minor incident like stepping wrong off a curb, it might be time to get your bones checked out—this could be an early indication that you have the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis. Protect yourself with these 40 science-approved ways to slash your risk of developing osteoporosis.

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You’re getting cramps, muscle aches, and bone pain

Aches and pains come with aging—we all expect that. But they can signal more than just your body getting older. Frequent aches and pains are a warning sign of a vitamin D deficiency, which can lead to bone loss. If you also find yourself getting frequent muscle cramps, it can be a sign of vitamin/mineral deficiencies. “Muscle cramps are especially common in feet and legs,” says Vishnu Seecharan, MD, a podiatrist in Palm Beach, Florida. “Leg cramps that occur at night are often a sign that your calcium, magnesium, and/or potassium blood levels are too low.” He says that if these deficiencies continue over a long period of time it may lead to bone loss.

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You have a small body frame

People with smaller frames are more likely to develop osteoporosis—party because they have less bone mass to lose. If you fall into this category, it means you have to be even more diligent about protecting your skeleton. Keep up with regular exercise and fill your diet with foods rich in calcium. And consider having your bones checked at your annual physical.

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You’re a woman with low estrogen levels

When this important hormone begins to decline—most often during menopause—your bones can suffer. There is a solution, according to a paper published in Arthritis Research & Therapy: “Data from several studies have shown that rapid bone loss in women after menopause can be effectively prevented by hormone replacement therapy.” If you’re unsure about your hormone levels, it’s best to get checked out by an endocrinologist or another specialist who can help you with your specific needs. If you do have low estrogen levels, using hormone replacement therapy, getting frequent high-impact exercise, and eating a balanced, calcium-rich diet can slow your bone loss. Next, find out the 8 “harmless” habits that could give you osteoporosis