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11 ways to bone up on the health of your skeleton!
While bones are hard and strong to protect our vital organs, they’re made up of living tissue that’s flexible for movement too.
Our bones grow the most in childhood but they have another ‘growth spurt’ during adolescence. However beyond the teen years, our bones go through a lifelong process called ‘remodelling’ or bone metabolism; this is when our bone cells break down and remove the mature bone and rebuild it. That’s why bones can heal after they break.
We put together a selection of unique facts that may strengthen your knowledge – and your bone health!
1. The human body reaches peak bone mass between 25-30 years of age.
Typically, this is only a couple of years after we reach our full height and it usually takes place a little earlier in women than men. It’s also heavily influenced by your diet and physical activity. In fact, as we pass this milestone, we actually lose more bone than we make. This is an even greater reason to be aware of the activities which help keep our bones healthy and strong.
2. Osteoporosis and osteopenia increase the risk of bone fractures.
Both of these conditions are the result of clinically low bone density, so there’s a 20% increase in the risk of fractures and a 3% increased risk of hip fractures. Even a small fall or trip can cause a broken bone in people with low bone density.
Both osteopenia and osteoporosis (the more serious progression of osteopenia) are really common conditions in Australia, with more than 1 million Aussies living with osteoporosis. In those aged 50 years and over, 66% have osteoporosis or osteopenia.
You can do a quick online bone health risk assessment to find out if you might be at risk of low bone density.
3. Exercise and diet can help our bodies increase bone mass even as we age.
Recent research has shown that if you combine a weight-bearing exercise regime with a healthy, calcium-rich diet, your bone mass can increase even later in life. In fact, a diet that’s packed full of fruits, vegetables, healthy protein, and nuts is key for providing the “building blocks” for new bone mass.
“Some hormone therapies like oestrogen replacement for women can also help with the retention and building of bone mass.”
4. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our bones, and we need lots of it!
This is the most essential mineral when it comes to maintaining or increasing bone mineral density. You may remember
your parents and teachers reminding you to “drink your milk” and “eat your cheese” − it’s good for your bones! This is because calcium gives our bones their strength and structure. In fact, almost 99% of your body’s
calcium is in your bones.
5. Don’t eat cheese? Calcium is also found in leafy greens and nuts.
While cow’s milk and yoghurt provide the richest source of calcium, you can bump up your intake by including leafy greens like broccoli and bok choy, nuts such as almonds and even tempeh in your diet. This is great news for people following a vegan or vegetarian diet! You can also add calcium-fortified plant milks to your smoothie in the morning and tinned fish like sardines with edible bones to your sandwiches for lunch.
Read more about what you should eat to help prevent osteoporosis.
6. Weight-bearing and resistance training are key for bone mineral density.
You don’t need to lift the heaviest weights in your gym to give your bones the benefit of weight-bearing exercises. Resistance training is based on putting a ‘load pressure’ on your bones at a level that you can tolerate. Your body responds by stimulating positive bone mass changes, and eventually your reps become easier as your strength increases too!
Read more about how exercising for your bones works.
7. A daily dose of Vitamin D helps in the reformation of bone mass.
Helping your body absorb calcium, Vitamin D is vital for good ‘bone turnover’ which aids in
maintaining your bone mass. A walk in the sun is great for a dose of Vitamin D but it’s also found in fish and dairy. Like mushrooms? Place them ‘gills up’ in the sun for 20 minutes for another source of Vitamin D.
8. Collagen forms a large percentage of our bone mass.
While collagen helps keep your skin plump and youthful, it’s also found in your muscles, tendons, cartilage and bones. In fact, it’s the most abundant form of protein in the tissues of our body. Our bodies make collagen naturally through combining the nutrients we get in proteins, vitamins and minerals. So this is another great reason to make sure you’re eating a balanced and nutritious diet. It’s the best way to ensure you’re getting all the essential minerals and vitamins you need for the collagen-building process to happen.
“Resistance exercises like lifting weights and using resistance bands are 100% necessary for healthy bone density.”
9. Muscle weakness and low bone density can cause bone fractures.
While falls are the most common result of weaker muscles and low bone density, almost any kind of sudden stress on our bones can cause a fracture. The solution? Keep your bones strong and healthy through the food you eat and the exercises you do regularly. This applies to all ages and fitness levels.
10. Exercises like swimming and aqua aerobics have the least positive impact on bone mass.
Your regular aqua aerobics class may be great for your cardio fitness, but it’s not doing much for the strength of your bones because being in the water reduces the load on your body. That weightless feeling you experience in the pool takes away the impact necessary for any bone density improvements.
11. Balance exercises like yoga can help prevent fractures from falls.
If you have great balance, your risk of a fall and potential fracture decreases. This is particularly important as we age. What’s more, being stronger means we can resist external forces that could cause us to fall. So try incorporating some of the balancing moves found in yoga and tai chi to your exercises.
Make no bones about it – bone health is key to your overall wellbeing
If you thought that the only job our bones have is to carry us around and help us lift things – think again! Made up of living tissue, our bones protect our vital organs like the brain and heart from injury. But they also store vital minerals such as calcium and phosphorous which keep our bones strong.
You can maintain healthy bones by doing the following things:
- Enjoy a diet that’s rich in dark, leafy vegetables, nuts and dairy
- Get your daily dose of vitamin D in the sun, or even by sunbathing your mushrooms!
- Keep your strength and balance exercises going with weights and yoga.
Remember the older you get, the more important it is to stay strong and nourished to avoid developing bone density issues such as osteoporosis. If you’re concerned about your bone health, you can speak with your GP about having a bone density scan.
Ultimately, a healthy diet, a little sunshine and a positive, balanced approach to exercise can help keep your bones healthier for longer.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.
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