What factors affect Bone Health?
Although it may not seem like it, our bones are constantly changing in response to our age and lifestyle. Most of our bone mass is obtained during our childhood and teenage years and peak bone mass is achieved around 30 years of age. After this, it starts to decrease slowly, causing our bones to gradually become thinner and weaker over the years.
This decrease in bone mass can be accelerated during menopause due to changes in hormone levels, as oestrogen helps the body to absorb calcium from the diet for our bones and oestrogen levels are reduced during menopause. For this reason, it is especially important for women to look after their bone health.
In some men and women, low bone mass can cause osteoporosis. This is a condition where the bones are more porous and fragile, which can lead to an increased risk of bone fractures or breaks. But the good news is that we can do something about it! There are steps that we can take to protect our bone health, now and further down the line!
A healthy, balanced diet is important for our general health and our bone health. When it comes to our bone health, two nutrients which are particularly important are calcium and vitamin D, while protein and phosphorous are also needed. These nutrients are required for building bone mass and slowing down bone loss.
Calcium that is obtained from our diet is stored in our bones as a component of their physical structure. The amount of calcium that is stored or used for other biological functions is regulated by a complex system involving hormones such as parathyroid hormone and vitamin D. When we have an adequate intake of calcium from our diet, it is stored in our bones and when we are not consuming enough calcium to meet our needs it is broken down for other purposes. Thus, a regular, sufficient supply of calcium is needed from the diet.
Sources of calcium include milk, yoghurt, cheese, tofu, dark green vegetables (e.g. broccoli), pulses, nuts and tinned fish (e.g. tinned sardines). Milk and dairy products are particularly rich sources of calcium and it is recommended that we consume three portions of dairy per day to help us to meet our calcium requirements.
Phosphorous is a mineral which is also needed for the structure of our bones. Phosphorous is found in many foods, including meat, fish, dairy, grain products (e.g. bread), nuts, seeds and potatoes.
Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium and phosphorous from our diet, in order to build strong bones. It is involved in tightly regulating the amount of these minerals that is stored in our bones. Vitamin D can be made by our skin using sunlight or obtained from our diet. Food sources are limited but include eggs, oily fish and fortified products (such as milk or certain breakfast cereals). A 10mcg supplement of vitamin D is recommended from October to March in the UK, to help us to meet our requirements when sunshine is unfortunately limited.
Protein is also an important nutrient for the structure of our bones. Sources include meat, fish, poultry, dairy, tofu and pulses. Try to spread your intake of protein throughout the day and aim to include a source in each meal if possible.
Exercise and Lifestyle
Regular exercise is also beneficial for our bone health. Adults in the UK are recommended to do 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. In order to maintain healthy bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis, weight-bearing and resistance exercise are particularly important.
We should aim to incorporate weight-bearing exercise such as walking or running into our daily life. Try to find a form of movement that you actually enjoy and that fits well into your schedule, as this will make it much easier to stick to long-term!
Other lifestyle factors to protect our bone health include avoiding smoking and limiting your alcohol intake to within the 14units recommended by the NHS guidelines.
Discover how to make walking part of your lifestyle: