How to have strong bones for life

Take good care of your bones and they will support you for life.

23 October 2013
by Annie Brookstone

Just as your body begins to show outward signs of ageing, so there is a progressive internal ageing process taking place too. “Peak bone mineral density is obtained between the age of 25 and 30 years and begins to decline in the fourth and fifth decades of life,” says Dr Hayden Hobbs, a consultant knee surgeon at the Sports Science Orthopaedic Clinic in Cape Town.

In short, when you’re younger your body builds up new bone faster than it breaks down old bone, but as you age you’ll start to lose more than you gain.

Dr Hobbs says that as we age, the main bone-related health problems that can arise are osteoporosis and an increased risk of fracture. “Bone mineral density declines at roughly 0.5 percent per year, but this rate is increased in women in the perimenopausal years. This leads to a decrease in bone mass and increase in fracture risk.”

It’s not only women, who naturally have less bone tissue than men, who face the risks associated with lower bone density and skeletal ageing. Poor nutrition (most importantly insufficient calcium intake), a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, and low body weight or anorexia are all lifestyle factors that contribute towards premature bone ageing, says Dr Hobbs.

Luckily though, just as our lifestyles can contribute towards bones losing density faster, so a few good habits can play an important role in keeping bones stronger for longer.

Dr Hobbs explains that the National Osteoporosis Foundation has developed five steps to optimise bone health:

  1. Get the daily recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D.
  2. Engage in regular weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercise.
  3. Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol.
  4. Talk to your healthcare provider about bone health.
  5. Have a bone density test and take medication when appropriate.

“The recommended daily intake of calcium is 1 000mg/day for individuals older than 18 years. This increases in females over 50 years to 1200mg/day,” advises Dr Hobbs. He lists milk, yoghurt and cheeses, green leafy vegetables (including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and Chinese cabbage), nuts, and beans and legumes as good dietary sources of this bone-building mineral.

Vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium, can be found in egg yolks, saltwater fish, liver and milk, and is also produced in the body through exposure to sunlight. “Calcium supplements combined with vitamin D can be taken in tablet form,” says Dr Hobbs, adding that it is also essential to continue with a balanced diet as other nutrients (like phosphate) are important for bone health too.

Staying physically active, even as you age, is also essential because exercise does more than build strong muscles, it builds strong bones. Weight-bearing exercises (either using your own body weight or free weights) are the most effective, as they stimulate the bones attached to the muscles being used to rebuild themselves.

Give yourself the best chance of a healthy future by losing those bad habits and picking up some new good ones today. Your bones will thank you.

Note: Clicks’ popular Healthbasics range includes calcium and vitamin D supplements that support bone health. Speak to your Clicks pharmacist about appropriate supplementation for your needs.