Maintaining Healthy Bones Through Life: Diet, Exercise, and More

by LukeAdmin

By Nicole Saliba

Did you know that a healthy balanced diet combined with regular exercise is the best way to ensure good bone health in your early years and can help maintain optimal bone mass as you age?

What’s the deal with our bones?
We may not realise it, but the bone tissue in our body is in a constant state of being broken down and renewed. The minerals from our bones are used for other purposes in the body every day, which we then need to replace. In our childhood and teen years the amount of bone that is made is greater than the bone broken down, resulting in an increase in bone mass and strength over all. After about 25–30 years of age, the rate at which bone is made begins to slow, we have already reached our peak bone mass and the goal moves towards maintaining the bone mass we already have. During menopause women lose roughly 10% of their bone mass in the five years post menopause due to changes in their hormones.

What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease where the bones become weak and brittle and it affects roughly 23% of women and 6% of men over the age of 50 in Australia. Osteoporosis increases the risk of a fracture and there are lots of risk factors such as:

  • Family history
  • Being female
  • Low calcium intake
  • Low vitamin D levels
  • Smoking
  • Excess caffeine and alcohol intakes
  • Certain medications
  • Low levels of physical activity and
  • Menopause.

What can we do to look after our bones?
There are plenty of things we can do to support our bone health however no matter how old we are. Here are our top tips for maintaining healthy bones at any age:

Get enough calcium
Calcium is well known for its role in helping build and maintain strong bones, but in Australia less than half of the adult population consumes the recommended daily intake. People over the age of 70yrs and women over 50yrs should aim for 1300mg per day (roughly 4 serves), while men over 50 should aim for 1000mg per day (roughly 3 serves). When we don’t get enough calcium from our diet or supplements the body borrows it from the bones causing them to become brittle over time. Dairy foods are the best sources of calcium from foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt and other good sources include sardines, tinned salmon with bones, tofu, almonds and sesame seed.

One serve of calcium provides roughly 300mg of calcium and is equivalent to :

  • 1 cup of cow’s milk or calcium fortified plant milk
  • 200g yoghurt
  • 2 slices cheese
  • 100g tofu (set in calcium).

If you feel you’re not getting enough calcium through the day, it may be beneficial to include a calcium supplement. Always chat to your GP or dietitian before starting a supplement.

Prioritise Vitamin D
Vitamin D works alongside calcium and helps us absorb it. Only small amounts of vitamin D are found in food sources such as fatty fish, eggs (including the yolk!), sun–baked mushrooms, liver, and fortified foods such as some milks or margarines. with the majority of our vitamin D from sunshine! During Summer months a few minutes of incidental activity in the sun can be enough to top up your levels, while in Winter some sun exposure during the middle of the day can be beneficial. A walk outdoors, spending a few moments eating lunch in the sun or doing some gardening are all great ways of maintaining regular sunshine during the cooler months of the year. The elderly, people who work indoors and people with darker skin are more likely to be deficient. Make sure to get your levels monitored by a GP and supplement if necessary

Keep Active
To help reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis, include some weight–bearing activity through the week! Bones thrive under a little active pressure, so including this type of activity is ideal to support a good strong bone matrix formation and reduce bone loss as we age.

There are two main forms of exercises that are beneficial for bone health including weight bearing, impact loading exercises and resistance training.

  • weight bearing, impact loading activities include; jogging, tennis, netball, dance, jumping jacks and skipping
  • resistance training involves activities that improve muscle strength including; free weights, medicine balls, resistance bands, yoga, pilates and bodyweight exercises such as squats

It is recommended to include a mixture of the above exercises across your week aiming for 30–40 minutes on most days. However, if you do not currently exercise or have pre–existing medical conditions it is important to talk to your GP or exercise physiologist about the best way to safely start an exercise program that suits YOU.

Choose An Overall Balanced Diet
While it can be very tempting to focus all our efforts on a small number of key nutrients to improve our bone health, the reality is that the way we eat overall makes a huge impact. There are many extra nutrients that we need to get from a variety of food groups that are also involved in the formation of strong bones, including magnesium, potassium, protein, vitamin K2 and vitamin C. Research has shown that varied plant based diets, such as a Mediterranean diet, have much better outcomes for bone health than typical Western diets that include more refined grains, processed foods and sweets.

Choose a varied diet with a regular intake of nutrient rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, lean meats, wholegrains, healthy fats and dairy foods. Some simple and practical ways we can move towards this type of eating plan include:

  • Swap white bread to grain bread
  • Swap refined crackers for grainy crackers
  • Swap processed meats for tinned tuna or salmon
  • Include the different coloured vegetables at main meals
  • Substitute some meat for legumes such as chickpeas, beans or lentils
  • Cook with extra virgin olive oil
  • Snack on fresh fruit instead of sweets.

If you have a family history of osteoporosis or osteopenia, book in with an Accredited Practising Dietitian at Eatsense and get a personalised plan!

Nicole is a passionate sports nutritionist and Accredited Practicing Dietitian who established her practice Eatsense in 2013 as she has a burning desire to help people, see them happy and watch them thrive. Her vision is to help as many people learn to prioritise themselves, feel their best, enjoy delicious and nourishing food and live a healthy, happy and fulfilling life through her one on one consultations and seminars. Contact Nicole at her Erina Clinic on 4311 3623.

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