Your bones help to support your body and protect your organs and tissues from injury. They also help to store nutrients and produce new blood cells. Healthy bones are important for your mobility and quality of life, but many people don’t realise they can pro-actively look after their bone health and reduce their risk of osteoporosis and broken bones – did you?
Risks of poor bone health
Your bone tissues are constantly being broken down and replaced by your body, but the speed at which this tissue is replaced slows down as you age. This leads to natural loss of bone density and weaker bones. If the bones become very weak and fragile, this is known as osteoporosis.
People with osteoporosis have bones that are more likely to break, and most commonly breaks occur in the wrist, spine, or hip. Many people don’t realise they have it until they break a bone, however some people develop a stooped posture caused by broken bones in the spine.
Taking steps to keep your bones healthy can help prevent osteoporosis.
How to keep your bones healthy
Step 1: Eat foods good for bone health
As with everything, a balanced diet is key to good bone health. There are, however, some key nutrients your bones need to stay strong and healthy.
Calcium – You can get calcium from foods such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, broccoli, cabbage, okra, tofu, figs, nuts, and sardines with bones (to name just a few).
Vitamin D – You get most of your vitamin D from sunlight on your skin and it is hard to get it through your diet. Many of us don’t get enough vitamin D, particularly in winter when we spend less time outdoors and cover more of our skin when we do go out. The NHS therefore recommends taking a daily vitamin D supplement during the colder months. You can get some vitamin D from foods such as egg yolks, oily fish, and fortified foods such as some breakfast cereals.
Your bones are living tissue and benefit from regular exercise just as much as your muscles.
Step 2: Exercise regularly
Your bones are living tissue and benefit from regular exercise just as much as your muscles. Exercise makes your bones stronger and less likely to break which is important because you naturally start to lose bone strength as you age. Exercise can improve your bone density and combat the effects of aging related bone weakening.
The best kinds of exercise for bones include:
Weight-bearing exercises with impact – Weight bearing means that you are standing without support, ‘bearing’ the weight of your body with your skeleton. Impact means adding an additional jolt of force, for example, a step sends a small jolt through your body. Some activities have low impact, and others have high impact – a mix is good but will depend on your ability. Examples include:
- Stair climbing
- Raquet sports
- Team sports
Muscle strengthening exercises – Your muscles pull on your bones when you work them. The stronger your muscles are, the harder they will work your bones, helping them get stronger too.
Muscle strengthening exercises include:
- Lifting weights
- Pull ups
- Push ups
- Using weight-based gym equipment
- Using elastic exercise bands
It’s important to exercise safely to reduce your risk of injury and include enough time for your body to rest and recover. Seek advice from a personal trainer if you’re unsure where to start.
Step 3: Make healthy lifestyle decisions
Each day you make decisions about your lifestyle, from what to eat, to whether to walk to the shop or take the car. Many of these decisions can have an impact on your health, either immediately, or over time.
Smoking and drinking too much alcohol are lifestyle choices that can increase your risk of poor bone health. Consider quitting if you smoke, and if you drink, choose to stay within the recommended guidelines: no more than 14 units a week spread over 3 days or more.
In addition to these actions, you can prevent broken bones by making sure your home in free of trip hazards, and by getting regular sight and hearing tests to keep you safe.
If you’re concerned about osteoporosis or your bone health in general, speak to your GP. There are tests that can be done to check your bone density and work out your risk of breaking a bone.
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