Three ways you can build and maintain healthy bones

When it comes to bone health there are three main elements you need to build and maintain healthy bones, no

When it comes to bone health there are three main elements you need to build and maintain healthy bones, no matter your stage in life.

Calcium plus exercise plus sunshine are vital for ensuring you have healthy and strong bones. It’s no good for you to focus on just one of these elements, you need a combination of all three to maximise your results.

According to Healthy Bones Australia, more than half of all Australian adults aren’t meeting the recommended daily intake for calcium. If you’re a woman aged 51 years or older or a man aged 71 years or older you need roughly 1,300mg each day, and if you’re a man aged under 70 you need 1,000mg a day of calcium.

Calcium is the major ‘building block’ for your bones — it’s what makes them hard. Your bones act as the storage device for the calcium and when you don’t get enough in your diet your body will steal what’s in the reserves for use. If you don’t get enough calcium (or you don’t replace the calcium your body is using) your bones lose their strength and become porous.

When it comes to exercise, weight bearing exercises are the best. When you exercise your muscles pull on your bones and this in turn builds bones. What this means is that the exercise you do builds stronger, denser bones, so you need to make sure you’re getting enough of the right kind of exercise.

At least 30 minutes of bone building exercise should be carried out up to six times a week (at least four times a week is a good start).

Weight bearing exercises such as walking, hiking, climbing stairs, playing tennis or netball, jogging or even joining in an aerobics class are all good activities for your bones. You also need to include a level of resistance training, such as using free weights or machine-based weight equipment at the gym.

Consider the types of high impact exercises you can include in your routine. Skipping, jumping, basketball etc… Finally, you want to practise your balance by standing on one leg with your eyes closed or partaking in tai chi or yoga.

Be sure you are supervised for any activity you are doing where you aren’t familiar with it, to ensure you don’t injure yourself.

Other activities your bones will enjoy include short, high bursts of exercise instead of long, slow, low impact sessions; increasing difficulty of an exercise; and variety in your exercise routine.

When it comes to sunshine, it’s all about the vitamin D that forms when your skin is exposed to the UVB radiation present in sunlight. Yes, there are some foods that contain vitamin D but it’s really hard to get the necessary amount of vitamin D from your diet alone.

If you’ve wondered why vitamin D is so important to your bone health it has everything to do with increasing the amount of calcium that is absorbed by your gut and adjusting the amount of calcium in your blood to strengthen your skeleton.

Naturally, in Australia you need to balance your amount of exposure to the sun with maintaining your vitamin D level in order to avoid developing skin cancer. With that in mind the recommended amount of sunshine you need largely depends on the season.

In summer, and if you are a moderately fair-skinned person, you want to have a 5-10 minute walk with your arms exposed in either the morning or the afternoon. However, in winter the same person would need up to 30 minutes in the middle of the day.

What tips do you have for maintaining healthy bones? Do you suffer from a bone condition that prevents you from doing some things? Tell us about it.

  1. marilyn flynn  

    I think it has been pretty much proved now that weight bearing exercises do NOT build bones (google this). Nothing does, once you’ve lost it you can’t get it back. I still do them though as there are other benefits (balance, cardio, muscle etc),

  2. Pam Tomney  

    I have osteo-arthritis and osteo-porosis and have been told never to do impact training. Walking, swimming etc are acceptable but anything like running or sport is classed as high impact and should not be practised. A lot of people over 70 are likely to have brittle bones and should not do any impact exercise as it leads to shattered and broken bones. You must be careful what sports you encourge the older generation to take part in

    • Hans de Rycke  

      “What appears to be important in bone metabolism is not calcium intake, but calcium balance. The loss of bone integrity among many post menopausal white women probably results from genetics and from diet and lifestyle factors. Research shows that calcium losses are increased by the use of animal protein, salt, caffeine, and tobacco, and by physical inactivity.”
      (Neal Barnard, M.D., Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, Understanding Health, December, 1999)

      “Dietary protein increases production of acid in the blood which can be neutralized by calcium mobilized from the skeleton.”
      (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1995; 61 (4)

      “Even when eating 1,400 mg of calcium daily, one can lose up to 4% of his or her bone mass each year while consuming a high-protein diet.”
      (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1979;32(4)

      “The average man eats 175% more protein than the recommended daily allowance and the average woman eats 144% more.”
      (Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health, 1988)

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