Bones support our organs and allow freedom of movement, which is why keeping them strong and healthy is vital. Weight-bearing exercises, a balanced, healthy diet and, in some cases, calcium supplementation can all help keep our bones healthy and strong.
Fortunately it is never too late to start strengthening and caring for your bones, and the earlier you start, the better.
1. Do weight-bearing exercise regularly
Regular exercise strengthens the bones, especially strength-based exercises with weights and other weight-bearing exercises.
Bones are living tissue which responds to exercise by becoming stronger. The younger you are when you begin exercising, the greater your peak bone mass (maximum bone density and strength) will be.
Regular exercise not only strengthens the bones but also increases muscle strength, coordination, and balance, which prevents falls and related fractures.
Weight-bearing exercises which require the body to work against gravity, such as weight training, walking, hiking, climbing stairs and dancingare the most beneficial. Half an hour a day is optimal.
2. Eat the right foods for healthy bones
A balanced, healthy diet comprised of a variety of foods will provide you with an assortment of nutrients. In terms of bone health, the most important are calcium and vitamins C, D and K.
Low-fat dairy products are good sources of calcium, and many are fortified with vitamin D, both of which are essential for strong bones. Other foods rich in calcium include:
• Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines
• White beans
Fresh produce like fruits and vegetables are rich in essential vitamins and minerals needed for bone health. Green vegetables (kale, broccoli, spinach) and orange vegetables (peppers, strawberries, oranges and pineapples) are excellent options.
Other essential vitamins that protect your bones:
• Phosphorus is found in dairy and meat.
• Magnesium helps improve bone strength and is found in nuts and beans, whole grains such as brown rice, and green leafy vegetables.
• Vitamin K is vital for bone formation and mineralisation and is found in green leafy vegetables and fermented dairy.
• Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits and tomatoes and in many vegetables such as broccoli.
• Vitamin A aids in normal skeletal growth and is found in liver, eggs, butter, green leafy vegetables and carrots.
3. Stop smoking and drink in moderation
Smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products has been identified as a risk factor for the development of osteoporosis and also increases the risk of bone fractures.
Similarly, chronic alcohol use has also been shown to affect bone health. The balance of hormones in the body plays an important role in maintaining healthy bones. Regularly drinking too much alcohol can affect hormone levels and as a result, the health of your bones.
4. Take supplements to boost bone health
Calcium and vitamin D are the two most important ingredients for strong and healthy bones. And while first prize is to obtain all you need from a balanced and nutritious diet, this is not always possible and supplementation can help.
But how much calcium and vitamin D do you need daily? The recommended calcium and vitamin D intakes are as follows:
• Young adults between 14 and 18 should be getting 1.300mg/day of calcium and 600IU/day of vitamin D.
• Adults between 19 and 50 years should be getting 1.000mg/day of calcium and 600IU/day of vitamin D.
• Adult males between 51 and 70 years should be getting 1.000mg/day of calcium and 600IU/day of vitamin D, and women between 51 and 70 years should be getting 1.200mg/day of calcium and 600IU/day of vitamin D.
If your diet is not inclusive of all the calcium and vitamin D you need, supplementing is a good option.
5. Protect your bones from a younger age
Many people in their teens and twenties don’t give bone health much thought and may believe that osteoporosis only affects older women but the truth is that following a healthy lifestyle while young is critical in lowering your risk of osteoporosis in later life.
Your bone density reaches its peak in your twenties and to preserve that density for as long as possible, you need to follow all the tips above including following a healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, exercising regularly and avoiding binge drinking and smoking.
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