Keeping our bones healthy is something that many of us give little thought to, but poor bone health is becoming an increasing problem, particularly as we live longer. According to Osteoporosis Australia, more than 1 million Australians have osteoporosis and many more have low bone density (also called osteopaenia). And while it’s more common in those over 50, protecting our bones is best started when we are young.
Risk factors for weak bones include having a family history of osteoporosis, smoking, excess alcohol intake, low vitamin D levels, being inactive, having a poor calcium intake and being underweight. Certain medications and medical problems can also increase the risk of osteoporosis.
The good news is that there are plenty of things we can do to build strong bones and it’s never too late to start.
- Eat enough calcium by including calcium rich foods in your diet each day. Calcium is the most important mineral for bone health, combing with other minerals to maintain strong bones. The bones act as a storage bank for calcium – this means that if the amount of calcium in the blood (which is needed for other important functions) falls below a certain level the body takes the calcium it needs from the bones. Good sources of calcium include milk, hard cheese, yoghurt, fortified soy milks, canned fish with bones (e.g. salmon and sardines), firm tofu, unhulled tahini (sesame seed paste), almonds, figs, kale, broccoli and Asian greens. Recommended intakes are 1000mg for adults aged 19-50 years and 1300mg for women over 50 years and men over 70 years.
- Maintain adequate levels of vitamin D by getting regular sensible sunlight exposure. The amount of sunlight you need to produce vitamin D is relatively low but will depend the season, your location, your skin type and the area of skin exposed. You can find out more on the Osteoporosis Australia Website. Fatty fish and eggs also provide some vitamin D but it is difficult to get enough from diet alone.
- Exercise regularly including both regular weight-bearing exercise (such as brisk walking, running or dancing) and resistance training (lifting weights). Aim for at least 3 times per week and continue to increase the intensity and/or resistance as the exercise gets easier. As we get older, balance training is also important to prevent falls.
- Limit your intake of alcohol and don’t smoke. Excess alcohol and smoking can both negatively impact your bone health.
Want to know how your bone health rates? Score your bone health online at Healthy Bones Australia or self-assess your bone health at the Know Your Bones Website and take the report along to your next appointment with your GP to discuss the results.
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