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How to look after your bone health according to the experts
The health of your bones isn’t something you’ve probably thought about, like gut health, or eye health.
However, your bones are living tissue and not only do they provide structure to the body, but they protect organs, anchor muscles and store calcium – an essential nutrient that keeps bones strong, helps muscles move, enables nerves to send messages around the body and is involved in the function of blood vessels and the production of hormones and enzymes that influence our body functions.
‘The adult human skeleton is made up of 206 bones,’ says Emmanuel Udomhiaye, musculoskeletal physiotherapist at Bupa Health Clinics.
‘They are mostly made up of collagen and calcium. Bones are the framework of your body and are continuously changing over time.
‘We build almost all our bone density when we’re children and into our teenage years with bits of old bone being replaced by new ones.
‘Typically, bones stop growing around 16 to 18 years of age, but the total amount of bone tissue you have will increase slowly, until your late twenties.’
Your bone mass peaks in your thirties and dwindles with age. Looking after your bones is important to help prevent bone weakness, osteoporosis and fractures in later life. Everything from what you eat and drink to your gender and fitness regime, can have an impact on the state of your bones.
‘Not getting enough calcium in your diet can increase your chances of getting osteoporosis and vitamin D is important because it helps the body use that calcium,’ says Emmanuel.
‘Not exercising or being inactive for long periods of time affects your bone health as can body weight. Bone health has been linked to eating disorders such as anorexia.
‘Women have smaller bones than men and lose bone faster because of hormone changes, particularly ones that happen after menopause.
‘Smoking cigarettes can stop your body from using the calcium you eat and people who drink a lot of alcohol are also more likely to have weaker bones.’
Osteoporosis (also known as brittle bone disease) is characterised by low bone mass and deterioration in the structure of the bone which ultimately causes the bones to become fragile and more likely to fracture.
Yet it is largely preventable – how we eat, live and exercise has an enormous impact on how healthy are bones are. There’s no time like the present to take action, so we asked the experts for some tips…
Harvey Lawton: ‘Do regular strength and resistance training’
Harvey Lawton is a coach and educator and founder of The Movement Blueprint.
‘Exercise stimulates the regeneration and repair of bone-forming cells even after we have reached peak bone mass and as a result of this process, our bone density increases making our frame less brittle,’ he says.
‘The greatest return and adaptation comes from strength and resistance training. This can be gym-based activities such as weight training or strength-based exercise classes and even activities like climbing, running, jumping or lifting/carrying heavy objects.
Try to incorporate a variety of methods, from aerobic/cardiovascular training to resistance training, as building a strong foundation has a positive impact in everything from participation in sports to running around with your kids.’
Jane Clarke: ‘Eat a healthy balanced diet rich in calcium’
Dietitian Jane Clarke has more than 30 years experience in the nutrition industry and is the founder of Nourish By Jane Clarke.
‘Most of us know that calcium is key for strong bones and optimum body function,’ she says.
‘Our body cannot produce this mineral, so we need to source it from the food we eat. Adults require 700mg of calcium a day, all of which we should be able to obtain from the food we eat.
‘Four or five portions of calcium-rich foods a day should give you what you need. One glass (200ml) of milk contains around 240mg calcium; a 30g chunk of Cheddar contains 222mg; half a tin of sardines has 340mg.
‘Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are rich sources of calcium but soya products including tofu, almonds, seeds and dried fruits (particularly apricots), tinned fish like sardines and anchovies, and green leafy vegetables (kale, cabbage) are too.
‘Our bones also need magnesium and vitamin K for strength and structure, but it’s not always easy to eat the recommended daily amounts so a combined supplement of calcium, magnesium and vitamin D could work if you have low bone density, or you don’t eat much dairy.
‘Vitamin D is also important for the absorption of calcium. It is mainly manufactured by the skin when it is exposed to sunlight but can be found in sardines, herrings, salmon, tuna, dairy produce and eggs.’