Keeping your bones healthy

Even though you can’t see them, your bones have an important job to do – particularly as we get older.

Bones act like the foundations and support walls of a building to keep our body strong and enabling us to lead healthy, active and independent lives.

As well as supporting the structure of our bodies, bones also protect our internal organs, contain marrow where blood cells are made and store minerals such as calcium.

Maintaining your bone density in later life helps reduce the risk of breaks and can help with mobility by reducing frailty.

So, what are the best ways to keep your bones healthy? According to Healthy Bones Australia, there are three key ingredients to maintaining healthy bones throughout your life.

These are:

  • Calcium
  • Exercise
  • Sunshine

All three of these elements are required for strong, healthy bones – you can’t just focus on one without the others. Here are some tips to make sure your bones can be as healthy as can be:

Calcium

Did you know that more than half of all Australian adults do not meet their recommended daily intake of calcium? Calcium is a crucial building block for bones. It is also stored in the bones, so if our body isn’t receiving enough calcium through our diets, it will source it from our bones instead, leading to them become weak.

Your recommended dietary intake of calcium varies according to age, but for older men and women, it’s recommended you aim for 1300mg/day.

Exercise

It’s well known that exercise is essential for our physical and mental health, but did you know it’s also essential for your bones?

When we exercise our muscles pull on our bones, making them stronger and denser. To maintain better bone density, 30 minutes of bone-building exercise 4-6 times a week is a good rule.

But what types of exercise are best for bone building? There are four types of exercise that are great for bones:

  • Weight-bearing exercises, such as brisk walking, dancing, tennis and stair climbing
  • Resistance or strength training – these are exercises using free weights, bands or weight machines at the gym.
  • High impact exercises, such as jogging, skipping or aerobics.
  • Balance training, such as yoga, tai-chi or exercise balls.

Sunshine

Vitamin D is essential to bone health, increasing the amount of calcium in the blood and strengthening bones. While some foods contain vitamin D, the best source is from the sun.

It’s important to balance the amount of sun needed for adequate Vitamin D levels with the risk of skin cancer from too much sun exposure. So how much sunshine should you aim for?

In Queensland’s summer, those with moderately fair-skin should aim to walk with arms exposed for 6-7 minutes in the mid-morning or afternoon. In winter, you should increase that to 7-10 minutes and take your walk at noon.

How to assess your bone health

Healthy Bones Australia have a handy online bone health calculator for you to check your bone health at www.healthybonesaustralia.org.au/score. It is also worthwhile checking with your doctor who can do a formal bone density test.

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