How to build healthy bones

When you think about it, our bones do all the heavy lifting day in day out, and we take them for granted. They keep us upright and ready for action, but we just don’t thank them enough.

In fact, we ignore them until the stress gets too much, and then one day they just snap – literally. And we wonder why.

Healthy bones are the key to leading long, active and independent lives

Everyone knows beauty and wrinkles are only skin deep. It’s what lies beneath that matters. Which is why healthy bones are the key to leading long, active and independent lives.

For most of us it has probably been a long while since we found our arm in a sling or leg in a cast from a sports injury or playground fall. But it isn’t hard to remember the searing pain, the shock and the tears, and the weeks of hobbling around gingerly with gritted teeth, unable to do the daily tasks we take for granted.

Picking up a knife and fork, climbing the stairs, getting dressed, opening the mail, putting on your shoes, driving the car, doing the shopping. All of a sudden a broken bone, which usually takes six to eight weeks to mend, becomes the centre of the universe. All of a sudden you can’t get anything done without calling for help.

One in three Australians over the age of 50 have osteoporosis or osteopenia

Increased risk of osteoporosis
Your bones certainly have a way of reminding you who’s the boss. Not looking after your bones increases your risk of osteoporosis, a disease where bones become brittle and are at high risk of fracture. One in three Australians over the age of 50 have osteoporosis or osteopenia and by 2022, 6.2 million Australians will be affected. Women are particularly vulnerable after menopause, when bone density can drop dramatically.

Building and maintaining bones is a lifelong deal

Bones are living tissue, constantly in a state of renewal, so building and maintaining bones is a lifelong deal. The good news is that looking after your bones is not one of those health chores that makes you want to run and hide. Looking after you bones is one of the best things you can do every day.

3 key ingredients for strong bones for life include:

1. Calcium-rich foods
2. Weight-bearing exercise
3. Vitamin D from safe sun exposure

Calcium-rich foods
The latest Australian Health Survey shows Australians aren’t getting enough calcium with nine out of 10 adults missing out on the dairy food group.

There is more to life and healthy eating than dry roasted nuts and steamed broccoli. To get the same amount of calcium as one serve of dairy, you would need to eat 32 Brussels sprouts, 21 cups of raw chopped spinach, five cups of cooked broccoli or one cup of dry roasted almonds.

I know what most people - myself included - would do if handed five cups of cooked broccoli. If you prefer dairy then milk, cheese and yoghurt all provide a convenient, healthy and delicious source of calcium, contributing over 40 per cent of the calcium we eat.

Milk, cheese and yoghurt are the top three sources of calcium in the Australian diet; however there are alternatives. The following non-diary alternatives contain about the same amount of calcium as a serve of milk, yoghurt or cheese:

Here are 10 easy ways to boost calcium intake:

1. Include yoghurt on your breakfast cereal 
2. Spread ricotta cheese on a salad sandwich
3. Enjoy a café latte for afternoon tea
4. Serve curries with a generous dollop of yogurt
5. Mix together spreadable cream cheese and vanilla yoghurt, then layer onto a meringue and berries for dessert.        
6. 100g almonds with skin
7. 60g sardines, canned in water
8. ½ cup (100g) canned pink salmon with bones
9. 100g firm tofu (check the label as calcium levels vary)
10. Calcium fortified milks with calcium levels at 100mg/100mls

Osteopenia and osteoporosis are complex  and there are many factors in involved in bone density. Some factors that increase the risk of osteoporosis cannot be changed; these non-modifiable factors include being female (women develop thin bones sooner than men), menopause, age, certain medical conditions, and a genetic predisposition.

However there are lifestyle factors that are recommended for optimizing bone health including, calcium rich foods, weight bearing exercise, adequate vitamin D, decreasing smoking and limiting alcohol and being in a healthy weight. 

What is ‘a serve’ of dairy? 
To include four serves of dairy per day in your diet if you’re a woman over 50 (or 2.5 if you’re under 50) it’s useful to understand what makes up a serve: 

- one glass of milk (250ml)
- 3/4 of a cup of yoghurt (200g)
- two slices of cheese (40g)
- ½ cup ricotta cheese (120g).

Weight-bearing exercise
This is simply exercise that involves supporting your own weight – such as walking – rather than swimming or cycling. So take the dog for a walk, play a short game of tennis or stay focused with some yoga. These options are all good for your heart, for your mind and for your bones.

Vitamin D
And finally the invisible but invaluable vitamin D. It really is as simple as getting out and about in moderate sunshine. Walking, gardening, reading a book in the park for a limited time each day. The Cancer Council recommend simply spending a few minutes outdoors per day with a section of uncovered skin.

Healthy Bones Action Week
This week is Healthy Bones Action Week (1 to 7 August) which highlights how – food, exercise and sunshine - can help maintain healthy bones.

To kick-start healthy bone habits, women aged 50+ are encouraged to register for the free Fit, Fab & 50 Challenge, oir visit www.facebook.com/HealthyBones.

What area of health would you like us to cover next? Let us know in the comments section below.