Is It Possible To Reverse The Damage Caused By Past Bad Habits? - Save Our Bones

Cultivating healthy habits is the cornerstone of the Save Institute’s proven approach to reversing osteoporosis and improving your overall health. Weight-bearing exercises, following a pH-balanced diet, and adjusting other lifestyle choices prioritizes the health of your bones and your whole body.

When you consciously change your habits, it basically implies that your past habits were less than ideal. Those earlier choices might have damaged your bones and your body, but don’t despair. Science has shown that this type of damage is reversible.

Today we’ll look at five unhealthy habits you may have had in the past, and what you can do to reverse the damage they might have caused.

1. If You Failed To Get Sufficient Sleep

There are plenty of reasons why people cut into their sleeping time, such as work, school, or childcare. But regardless of the cause, sleeping less than six hours on a frequent basis is defined as chronic short sleep (CSS) and has clinically proven adverse effects on neural health.

CSS reduces neurogenesis (the production of new neurons) in the hippocampus, which harms the brain’s ability to learn and create memories.1 Sleep deficiency has also been linked to diabetes2, obesity3, high blood pressure4, mood disorders5, immune dysfunction,6, and bone loss.7

A study published last year looked at the evidence on the neural impacts of CSS and whether its consequences are reversible.

“The importance of sleep within an acute window in learning and memory is now firmly established, as is the need for adequate sleep long term for peripheral metabolic homeostasis and cardiovascular health. The concept that chronic sleep loss may have lasting or even protracted recovery effects on brain function has only recently begun to be substantiated, where it is now evident that chronic sleep loss can have profound effects on brain health and function, including neuronal survival.”

Fortunately, a night or two of under-sleeping isn’t a neuron death sentence. You can catch up on sleep that you’ve lost recently, but it takes time and care. Studies have found that it takes more than three nights of recovery sleep to make up for a week of shortened sleep.1

If you used to have poor sleep habits, getting plenty of shut-eye now is the best way to give your body what it needs.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults between the ages of 26 to 64 years old should sleep seven to nine hours each night. Older adults should be aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep.8 But if you’ve been undersleeping, give yourself some extra time to catch up, then adjust your habits to get the ideal number of sleep hours every night.


Insufficient sleep can cause numerous health problems, including bone loss and neuron death, but you can catch up on lost sleep to rebuild your health.

2. If You Didn’t Exercise Regularly

The health benefits of regular exercise are far-ranging and proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. In addition to improving cardiovascular health9, preventing cognitive decline10, and improving mental heatlh11, exercise is the most direct way to build new bone.12

You know that now, but what about all those years when you never lifted a weight or laced up a pair of running shoes? It turns out you can still get the positive effects of physical activity, even if you start exercising later in life.

A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine examined the association between physical activity and healthy aging among 3,454 men and women between the ages of 55 and 72. After eight years of follow-up, the researchers concluded that “sustained physical activity in older age is associated with improved overall health. Significant health benefits were even seen among participants who became physically active relatively late in life.”13

That means it’s never too late to start an exercise practice that will improve the health of your bones and your overall health.


If you haven’t exercised in the past, science has shown that you can get the benefits of exercise even if you’re starting later in life.

3. If You Ate Too Much Sugar

The harmful effects of sugar are well documented. But for many years those health detriments were hidden or ignored due to the successful lobbying and marketing of the sugar industry.14

Refined sugar contributes to a staggering array of ailments. It harms the liver15, causes coronary heart disease and diabetes16, and drives cognitive decline, among many other negative effects.17

Fortunately, it’s not too late to change your diet and improve the damage done by former eating habits.

A study published in the journal Obesity found that reducing sugar intake improved the poor metabolic health of children with obesity and metabolic syndrome. By replacing sugars with starches in their diets, the participants lowered their blood pressure and their cholesterol, and lost weight.18

A study conducted on rats concluded that you can reverse diet-induced leptin resistance by cutting out sugar, thereby undoing a major cause of obesity and its many associated health problems.19 Leptin is a hormone that sends signals to the brain indicating that your stomach is full.

By reducing your intake of sugar you can start to undo the negative effects of its excessive consumption in the past. There are lots of ways to cut down on refined sugar, from alternative sweeteners to choosing naturally satisfying foods.


By reducing your sugar intake, you can reverse the harmful effects of a high-sugar diet.

4. If Your Diet Was Acidifying

In the Western world most diets are acidifying, so you’re not alone if you look back and realize that your eating choices were not pH-balanced.

A pH-balanced diet doesn’t describe the acidity or alkalinity of the food on your plate. It describes the effect food will have on your body’s plasma pH levels. If the plasma pH becomes too acidic for extended periods of time, which depletes bicarbonate, the main buffering element in our blood, then the body will leech alkalizing minerals from bone to regain balance. This loss of bone leads to osteoporosis and increases the risk of fracture.

Conversely, a pH-balanced diet that alkalizes plasma pH levels creates ideal conditions for increasing bone mass. Indeed, multiple studies have found that maintaining a proper pH keeps bone minerals in place and leads to denser bones.20,21

Because the actions your body takes to rectify acidosis (an overly acidic pH) are in direct response to your diet and other environmental factors, as soon as you change your diet you start protecting your bones.


Eating an acidifying diet causes osteoporosis, but as soon as you starting eating a pH-balanced diet, you start protecting your bones.

5. If You Were Always Stressed Out

Life is full of challenges, but extended periods of unmitigated stress have a negative effect on your well-being.

Your body is designed to help you overcome a stressful situation so you can return to a calm, neutral state. A hormone called cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, puts your body in a heightened state of alert, as part of the fight or flight mechanism. It’s a useful tool for a short-term response, but if your cortisol levels remain elevated over a longer period, then health problems will arise.

Cortisol negatively impacts your digestive system22, your brain chemistry23, your appetite24, your ability to sleep25, and your bone remodeling process.26

Some effects, such as a disruption in sleep cycle or reduced immune function, can be reversed with stress management. Others, such as weight gain or high blood pressure, take longer to combat through changes in diet, exercise, and behavior.

Cortisol causes bone loss because it is acidifying and by suppressing osteoblast synthesis. Osteoblasts are the cells that create new bone. Fortunately, by reducing stress levels (and cortisol levels with it) you can allow your body to produce osteoblasts that will add new mass to your bones.27 Replace the habit of letting your stress pile up with stress-reducing choices like exercise, deep breathing, and making time for relaxation.


Stress triggers the release of the hormone cortisol. Prolonged exposure to cortisol creates many health problems, including bone loss. Stress reduction and management help to mitigate those adverse effects so your healthier new habits can reverse the damage they caused.

You Are Ever-Changing

The studies cited here prove it’s never too late to change your habits so you can improve your health. In most cases you can reverse the effects of old bad habits. Your body’s ability to renew itself, to grow, and to change, makes this possible.

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Take advantage of your potential to improve your health by making the right choices for your bones and your well-being.


1 Zhengqing Zhao, et al. “Neural Consequences of Chronic Short Sleep: Reversible or Lasting?” Front Neurol. 2017; 8: 235. Web.

2 Gottlieb DJ, Punjabi NM, Newman AB, Resnick HE, Redline S, Baldwin CM, Nieto FJ. “Association of sleep time with diabetes mellitus and impaired glucose tolerance.” Archives of Internal Medicine. 2005;165(8):863–867. Web:

3 Hasler G, Buysse DJ, Klaghofer R, Gamma A, Ajdacic V, Eich D, Rossler W, Angst J. “The association between short sleep duration and obesity in young adults: A 13-year prospective study.” Sleep. 2004;27(4):661–666. Web:

4 Ayas NT, White DP, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Speizer FE, Malhotra A, Hu FB. “A prospective study of sleep duration and coronary heart disease in women.” Archives of Internal Medicine. 2003;163(2):205–209. Web:

5 Pilcher JJ, Huffcutt AI. “Effects of sleep deprivation on performance: A meta-analysis.” Sleep. 1996;19(4):318–326. Web:

6 Gharib SA, et al., “Transcriptional Signatures of Sleep Duration Discordance in Monozygotic Twins.” Sleep, 2017. 40(1). Web:

7 Sasaki N. et al., “Impact of sleep on osteoporosis: sleep quality is associated with bone stiffness index.” Sleep Med. 2016 Sep;25:73-77. Web:

8 2015, February 5. National Sleep Foundation Recommends New Sleep Times. Web:

9 Jonathan Myers. “Exercise and Cardiovascular Health.” Circulation. 7 January 2003; 107;e2-25. Web.

10 Intlekofer KA, Cotman CW. “Exercise counteracts declining hippocampal function in aging and Alzheimer’s disease.” Neurobiol Dis. 2013 Sep;57:47-55. Web:

11 Carek PJ, Laibstain SE, Carek SM. “Exercise for the treatment of depression and anxiety.” Int J Psychiatry Med. 2011;41(1):15-28. Web:

12 Brama PA, Bank RA, Tekoppele JM, Van Weeren PR (2001) “Training affects the collagen framework of subchondral bone in foals.” Vet J 162:24–32

13 Hamer M, Lavoie KL, Bacon SL. “Taking up physical activity in later life and healthy ageing: the English longitudinal study of ageing.” Br J Sports Med 2014;48:239-243. Web.

14 Kearns CE, Schmidt LA, Glantz SA. “Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research: A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents.” JAMA Intern Med. 2016. 176(11):1680–1685. Web:

15 Umpleby AM, et al. “Impact of liver fat on the differential partitioning of hepatic triacylglycerol into VLDL subclasses on high and low sugar diets.” Clinical Science. 2017. 131(21). Web:

16 Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, Flanders WD, Merritt R, Hu FB. “Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults.” JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(4):516–524. Web:

17 Nobuyuki, Sasaki, et al. “Advanced Glycation End Products in Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Neurodegenerative Diseases.” The American Journal of Pathology. 1998 October; 153(4): 1149–1155. Web.

18 Robert H. Lustig, et al. “Isocaloric fructose restriction and metabolic improvement in children with obesity and metabolic syndrome.” Obesity. Volume 24, Issue 2, p453-460. 26 October 2015. Web.

19 Shapiro A, et al. “Prevention and reversal of diet-induced leptin resistance with a sugar-free diet despite high fat content.” Br J Nutr. 2011 Aug;106(3):390-7. Web.

20 Bushinsky, D.A. “Metabolic alkalosis decreases bone calcium efflux by suppressing osteoclasts and stimulating osteoblasts.” July 1996. Am J Physiol. 1(1 pt 2): F216-22. Web.

21 Dawson-Hughes, Bess, et al. “Treatment with Potassium Bicarbonate Lowers Calcium Excretion and Bone Resorption in Older Men and Women.” January 2009. J Clin Endocrinol Metab.94(1): 96-102. Web.

22 Dr. Howard Mertz. “Stress and the Gut.” Course Materials: Vanderbilt University. Web:

23 Tafet GE, Idoyaga-Vargas VP, Abulafia DP, Calandria JM, Roffman SS, Chiovetta A, Shinitzky M. “Correlation between cortisol level and serotonin uptake in patients with chronic stress and depression.” Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2001 Dec;1(4):388-93. Web:

24 Epel, E., R. Lapidus, B. McEwen, et al. “Stress may add bite to appetite in women: a laboratory study of stress-induced cortisol and eating” behavior.Psychoneuroendocrinology 26: 37-49, 2001.

25 Maria Basta, M.D., George P Chrousos, M.D, Antonio Vela-Bueno, M.D, and Alexandros N Vgontzas, M.D. “CHRONIC INSOMNIA AND STRESS SYSTEM.” Sleep Med Clin. 2007 Jun; 2(2): 279–291. Web:

26 Adinoff, Allen D., M.D. and Hollister, Roger J., M.D. “Steroid-Induced Fractures and Bone Loss in Patients with Asthma.” New England Journal of Medicine. August 4, 1983. 309:265-268. Web.

27 Dennison E, Hindmarsh P, Fall C, Kellingray S, Barker D, Phillips D, Cooper C. “Profiles of endogenous circulating cortisol and bone mineral density in healthy elderly men.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1999 Sep;84(9):3058-63. Web:

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Comments on this article are closed.

  1. Ita Fitzgerald

    Thank you, Ita.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      You’re welcome, Ita. 🙂

  2. Fay

    And how long is it after you stop taking bisphosphates before the bones start to absorb the minerals you take?

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      That’s a great question, Fay.

      The half-life of bisphosphonates is approximately 10 years, meaning that it takes 10 years for the body to get rid of half of the drug that attached itself to bone. As you know, these drugs stop normal bone metabolism (especially bone remodeling), but as it gets released and less is attached to bone, normal bone remodeling resumes at one point. When this happens is highly variable with each individual. Harvard Medical School research suggests about 5 years for “normal” bone metabolism to be restored.

      At that point, new bone covers old bone (with the wretched drug attached to it) and the drug becomes inactive. Till then, the drug gets released into the blood stream and alters how bones rebuild themselves.

      As for when you will get there, no one can answer that question precisely; but rest assured that at one point this WILL happen and you will be noticing some improvement. 🙂

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