Bones and Exercise
Bones are quite literally the support system of the body, so it’s important to keep them strong and healthy. Bones are continuously being broken down and rebuilt in tiny amounts. Before about age 30, when bones typically reach peak bone mass (which varies from person to person), the body is creating new bone faster, but after age 30, the bone building balance naturally shifts and more bone is lost than gained. You won’t feel your bones getting weaker but once it happens a minor bump or fall can leave you with a fracture or long term pain and disability.
So it’s never too early to start, the more you build them up the more you’ve got when you’re older. The latest research shows that to strengthen our bones we need to be doing the right kind of weight bearing exercises and seriously looking at our diet.
- Weight bearing exercises include activities that make you move against gravity while staying upright. They can be high-impact or low-impact. High-impact weight-bearing exercises help build bones and keep them strong – Brisk walking, dancing high impact aerobics, stair climbing and tennis all put stress on your bones which is what you need to strengthen them.
- Low-impact weight-bearing exercises can also help keep bones strong and are a safe alternative if you cannot do high-impact exercises – using elliptical training machines, low-impact aerobics, stair-step machines, fast walking on a treadmill or outside are all examples.
- Resistance exercises include activities where you move your body, a weight or some other resistance against gravity – lifting weights, using stretch bands or the weight of your own body (as you do in push-ups) are all good as they apply stress to the bones.
- Non-impact exercises can help you to improve balance, posture and how well you move in everyday activities. These exercises can also help to increase muscle strength and decrease the risk of falls and broken bones – balance exercises that strengthen your legs and test your balance
Posture exercises that improve your posture and reduce rounded or “sloping” shoulders can help you decrease the chance of breaking a bone, especially in the spine.
Diet is an important factor too. Calcium, whilst being important, needs vitamin D to use it effectively. As we know sunshine is the best source of vitamin D. Studies have shown that half of us are low in vitamin D and one in six is deficient during the Winter and Spring when most of us don’t get enough sunshine. You need to build up your supplies during the summer, aim for two 10-minute sun breaks a day between May and September, without sunscreen, to allow skin to soak up the sun and strengthen bones naturally. Your body makes vitamin D from the action of UVB rays in sunlight on your skin.
A diet that is rich in vitamin D is therefore one we should aim for – oily fish, eggs, fortified cereal, vegans can find vitamin D in fortified plant milks, such as soy, hemp, rice, oat and almond.
As well as dairy products and fish with bones, beans and greens vegetables are also good sources of calcium. Vegetables such as spinach, Swiss chard, watercress, parsley and beets contain calcium but also oxalic acid, which blocks the uptake of calcium to the bones. Therefore try having broccoli, spring greens and kale instead. And it’s always best to try to get your calcium from food rather than supplements.
The University of Surrey recently found potassium to play an important a part in bone health, by reducing the excretion of calcium and slowing bone breakdown. Good sources of potassium include: potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, tomato sauce (without added salt or sugar), orange juice, tuna (fresh, frozen or tinned, but avoid tuna packed in brine), yoghurt and fat-free milk.
Other factors that will help are –
- Keeping an eye on your weight but think slim but not skinny,
- Reduce the salt in your diet which can lead to calcium loss from the bones
- Too much alcohol interferes with the absorption of calcium and vitamin D
- Stop smoking, studies have shown a direct link between smoking and decreased bone density