Bone Health – Preventing Osteoporosis

Healthy strong bones are vital to a long, healthy, active and independent life.  

Did you know that poor bone health can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis, a condition where your bones can become weak and lead to an increased risk of fractures? 

Bones will be their strongest in our early twenties. This is the peak bone density that you will achieve. From early adulthood, our bones will gradually lose bone minerals such as calcium and gradually become weaker. This is where meeting our daily calcium needs and regular exercise is important. 

Calcium is essential for building and maintaining healthy bones throughout life. Calcium combines with other minerals to form hard crystals giving bones strength and structure. Almost 99% of the body’s calcium is found in the bones. 

Did you know that if you do not consume enough calcium, your body will take it from your bones? The body can’t create calcium so must get it from the diet. If not enough calcium-rich foods are consumed, calcium will be taken from the bones to be used for other body functions, and over time bones will become weaker, leading to osteoporosis, which can lead to an increased risk of fractures. 

An estimated 3.8% of Australians have osteoporosis, affecting one in two women and one in three men over the age of 60 years. Osteoporosis is mostly a silent condition – you do not experience any symptoms until a fracture has occurred, and sometimes you might not even realise. 

More than 50% of postmenopausal women and 30% of men over the age of 60 will suffer at least one fracture which can lead to living with ongoing pain, reduced mobility, loss of function and quality of life, and the risk of further fractures. However, many go untreated. 

How can I prevent osteoporosis? 
1. Get your daily dairy or calcium recommendations

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends the consumption of dairy foods every day. Half of all Australian adults do not achieve their daily recommended intake of calcium.  

To keep your bones strong, be sure to eat four serves of dairy each day – milk, cheese or yoghurt.  

If you can’t do this, alternative good sources of calcium include; 

  • Dark green leafy vegetables, such as bok choy, collards, and turnip greens. 
  • Broccoli. 
  • Sardines and salmon with bones. 
  • Calcium-fortified foods such as soymilk, tofu, orange juice, cereals, and breads. 

If you are still having trouble, talk to your GP about using a calcium supplement or other nutritional supplements to ensure you are meeting your recommendations. 

2. Get some safe exposure to the sun 

In Australia over 30% of adults have a mild, moderate or severe deficiency of vitamin D. 

Vitamin D is important for bone health as it helps your body absorb the important calcium from your intestine. It is produced when your skin is exposed to the sun. Some foods naturally contain vitamin D, including fatty fish, fish oils, egg yolks, and liver. Most people need exposure to the sun to maintain adequate levels. 

For most people, adequate vitamin D levels are reached through regular incidental exposure to the sun.  

In summer, a few minutes of mid-morning or mid-afternoon sun exposure to arms and hands on most days of the week should be sufficient to maintain adequate Vitamin D. Don’t forget to use sun protection if you are heading outdoors for more than a few minutes. 

In late autumn and winter, spend time outdoors in the middle of the day with some skin uncovered, such as going for a walk or gardening. 

If you are deficient, you will most likely need a supplement to boost your levels before incidental exposure will maintain your levels. Ask your GP if you are at risk of vitamin D deficiency and if you need a supplement. 

3.Put some weight through your bones 
Let’s get physical! 

Weight bearing and resistance exercise puts stress through the bone which helps to stimulate bone growth, preventing bone loss and improving strength. It also helps to build muscle strength and improve balance and coordination which helps to prevent falls in older adults. 

By doing regular resistance exercise, you are loading your bones and applying stress in different directions. It’s important to have a variety of different exercises to ensure you are targeting your bones the right way. It’s recommended to do some kind of weight bearing exercise at least three times per week. 

This doesn’t have to be in a gym if that’s not your thing. You can do any exercise on your feet. Some examples include dancing, taking the stairs, tennis, and walking using hand and ankle weights. 

You might also need specific exercises to strengthen and support your back to prevent further injury or exacerbating any fractures that are healing. 

Seeing an exercise physiologist or a physiotherapist can be useful if you have osteoporosis to ensure that you do not put sudden or excessive strain on your bones. Seeing your GP for a GP management Plan can be useful to give you the right education and refer you to allied health to meet your needs and goals.