Bones play many roles in the body — providing structure, protecting organs, anchoring muscles and storing calcium. While it’s important to build strong and healthy bones during childhood and adolescence, you can take steps during adulthood to protect bone health, too. Our bones are the foundation of our physical bodies. Without healthy bones, we will be unable to carry out our day-to-day activities properly. Bones quite literally hold us up! This is why looking after our bone health is so important.
Bones are living tissue. They contain nerves, blood vessels, and marrow, where blood cells are created. Bones are constantly tearing down and rebuilding themselves, like a freeway construction project that never ends. Without this repair and reinforcement of even minor weak spots, we would break bones on a regular basis.
Protecting your bone health is easier than you think. Understand how diet, physical activity, and other lifestyle factors can affect your bone mass. In order to best look after our bones, we need to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Here, we are going to explore what exercises to do and what to eat to ensure optimal bone health.
You need sufficient calcium to keep your bones healthy and Vitamin D to help your body absorb calcium.
Poor bone health can cause conditions such as rickets and osteoporosis and increase the risk of breaking a bone from a fall later in life.
To maintain strong healthy bones, your diet needs to consist of calcium and vitamin D
Adults need 700mg of calcium a day. You should be able to get all the calcium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.
Good sources of calcium include:
- milk, cheese and other dairy foods
- green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage and okra, but not spinach
- soya beans
- plant-based drinks (such as soya drink) with added calcium
- bread and anything made with fortified flour
- fish where you eat the bones, such as sardines and pilchards
Although spinach contains a lot of calcium, it also contains oxalate, which reduces calcium absorption, and it is therefore not as good a source of calcium.
Adults need 10 micrograms (400 International Units or IU) of vitamin D a day.
It’s difficult to get all the vitamin D we need from our diet and we get most of our vitamin D from the action of the sun on our skin.
Everyone should consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter when we cannot make vitamin D from sunlight.
Good sources of vitamin D:
- oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel
- egg yolks
- fortified foods, such as some fat spreads and breakfast cereals
What types of exercises strengthen bones?
Weight-bearing and resistance exercises are the best for your bones. Weight-bearing exercises force you to work against gravity. They include walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, playing tennis, and dancing. Resistance exercises – such as lifting weights – can also strengthen bones. Other exercises such as swimming and bicycling can help build and maintain strong muscles and have excellent cardiovascular benefits, but they are not the best way to exercise your bones.
Listen to your body. When starting an exercise routine, you may have some muscle soreness and discomfort at the beginning, but this should not be painful or last more than 48 hours. If it does, you may be working too hard and need to ease up. Stop exercising if you have any chest pain or discomfort, and see your doctor before your next exercise session.
If you have osteoporosis, ask your doctor which activities are safe for you. If you have low bone mass, experts recommend that you protect your spine by avoiding exercises or activities that flex, bend, or twist it. Furthermore, you should avoid high-impact exercise to lower the risk of breaking a bone. You also might want to consult with an exercise specialist to learn the proper progression of activity, how to stretch and strengthen muscles safely, and how to correct poor posture habits. An exercise specialist should have a degree in exercise physiology, physical education, physical therapy, or a similar specialty. Be sure to ask if he or she is familiar with the special needs of people with osteoporosis.
*This article does not replace professional medical advice