Bone mass, also known as bone mineral density, is a measure of the amount of mineral in a person’s bone tissue. Bone mass is a count of the amount of mineral (primarily calcium and phosphorus) per volume of bone.
Testing your bone mass can provide an interesting and sometimes diagnostic look at the health of your skeletal system. It can also indicate your risk for future bone injury or disease, including fractures and osteoporosis.
But what is a healthy bone mass, and are you a good candidate for a bone mineral density (BMD) test? Here’s what you need to know about bone mass and how it might impact your health today and in the future.
How is Bone Mineral Density Tested?
The clinical test to reveal your T-score is called a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry. The experience is pain-free and similar to having a regular x-ray.
There are two varieties of bone mass tests:
Central DXA test. This is the most common test for bone density. It measures your bone density at the hip or lower spine.
Peripheral DXA test. This assessment measures your bone density from your finger, wrist, heel, or forearm. Often, doctors will order a peripheral DXA test for screening before following up with a central DXA test if deemed necessary.
What is a Healthy Bone Mass?
Your BMD test results will be delivered as a T-score. The test compares your bone mineral density to the skeletal system of a young, healthy person. Your T-score is an indication of how you compare to the mean. For example, a T-score of 0 is considered normal and healthy. There is little variation between your bones and the bone density of a healthy young adult.
T-scores lower than 0 indicate lower bone mineral density. The farther from 0 you get, the greater your risk of bone injury.
A normal bone mineral density falls between -1 and +1. A T-score between -1 and -2.5 may result in a diagnosis of low bone mass.
What T-Score indicates Osteoporosis and Osteopenia?
Bone density testing is often used to diagnose osteoporosis. A T-score of -2.5 or lower is considered osteoporotic. Osteopenia is the step before osteoporosis when patients have a low bone density and a high risk of developing osteoporosis if it continues to drop.
Can You Combat Osteopenia?
The good news is that a bone mass density test that catches osteopenia or low bone density offers an opportunity to make lifestyle changes that may reverse the risk of osteoporosis.
Studies suggest that anti-osteoporotic medication is not advisable for treating patients with osteopenia as the efficacy of such mediation in individuals with a T-score between -1 and -2.5 is lacking evidence.1 Instead, physicians recommend lifestyle changes to increase BMD and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
The two primary strategies that doctors recommend to build bone density are:
Exercise. Weight-bearing exercise, including lifting weights, walking, and jogging can improve bone mineral density. One study found that a daily 12-minute yoga session increased bone density over the course of 10 years in a 741-person cohort.2
Diet. Eating a diet rich in bone-building nutrients like calcium and vitamin D is essential to building and maintaining strong bones. In particular, the Framingham Osteoporosis Study on a group of over 5,000 adults demonstrates the importance of eating sufficient calcium and magnesium to combat osteoperosis.3
Depending on other health factors, losing weight, quitting smoking and other health-promoting lifestyle changes can also help reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis.
Whether you have a low bone density or it runs in your family, it’s never too early to set yourself up for healthy bones. Engaging in regular weight-bearing exercise and rounding out your diet are two of the most important things you can do to build strong bones.
If you or your family members struggle to get the recommended amount of calcium and magnesium through food alone, a supplement designed specifically for bone-health can help bridge the gap and keep you active and strong for life.
1 Eriksen EF. Treatment of osteopenia. Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2012;13(3):209-223. doi:10.1007/s11154-011-9187-z
2 Lu YH, Rosner B, Chang G, Fishman LM. Twelve-Minute Daily Yoga Regimen Reverses Osteoporotic Bone Loss. Top Geriatr Rehabil. 2016;32(2):81-87. doi:10.1097/TGR.0000000000000085
3 Sahni S, Mangano KM, McLean RR, Hannan MT, Kiel DP. Dietary Approaches for Bone Health: Lessons from the Framingham Osteoporosis Study. Curr Osteoporos Rep. 2015;13(4):245-255. doi:10.1007/s11914-015-0272-1