Looking After Your Bones!

“The higher the peak bone mass we can get in young adulthood, the slower the loss of bone mass in late adulthood.”

It’s so important when you’re young, especially during your teens and early 20’s, to really look after your bones. Eat a balanced diet with enough foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, get enough exercise, don’t drink too much alcohol, and don’t smoke. It’s the age where you probably aren’t really thinking about all of these things!

Now that I’ve just turned 30, I’m a bit concerned that I didn’t invest in my bones enough. I wasn’t really a fan of milk, well, I didn’t eat too much dairy at all. I could’ve exercised more and consumed less alcohol. Despite studying for a nutrition degree, I was still just being a typical university student. I liked sunbathing though (still do, but a lot more careful these days) so I’m sure I got enough vitamin D and I’m just hoping I consumed other calcium rich foods. I suppose I ate plenty of broccoli, and tinned salmon with the bones, I remember picking them out until my Nan told me “Oooh you need to eat them, get your calcium!” – So I did. I’m still worried though.

So why am I concerned?

I’m concerned because peak bone mass is reached around the age of 30. When you’re younger, much more bone is deposited than withdrawn – increasing your bone mass. However, bone mass begins to decline around the age of 35 and you can only really then make healthy lifestyle choices or take medication to help maintain what you’ve got, not rebuild! The goal for bone health is basically to keep as much bone as possible for as long as you can. So it’s important to remember – the higher the peak bone mass we can get in young adulthood, the slower the loss of bone mass in late adulthood.

What are the complications?

Bone loss can result in a condition called osteoporosis, where bones lose their strength and are more likely to fracture; affecting over 3 million people in the UK. This can cause a lot of pain and severe disability, reducing quality of life. One in two women, and one in five men over the age of 50 experience fractures as a result of this!

So why is the risk higher in women?

Menopause! Fast bone loss occurs in the 10 years or so following the menopause because the level of oestrogen, a hormone that protects the bones, starts to decline. Although the decrease in bone mass then starts to slow down, it still continues throughout the post-menopausal years!

So what can you do about it?

Bad news is, a lot of it is out of your hands! We know that the older we get, the higher our risk and unfortunately, there are some other things that can’t be changed such as genetics! If it runs in the family, there’s a greater chance you will end up having the condition too. As I’ve just mentioned, gender plays a big role, with women being more at risk and then finally, your ethnicity. White and Asian women are more at risk whereas Black and Hispanic women have a lower risk of developing osteoporosis.

Balanced diet with sufficient calcium and vitamin d

However, there’s also a lot you can do before you reach peak bones mass density and then to prevent further bone loss and reduce risk of fractures later on. Throughout your life, eat a balanced diet rich in calcium (700mg per day) and vitamin D. It’s important. Don’t just start looking after your bones when there’s a problem, this needs to be done from an early age as it could have a significant benefit. Great sources of calcium are milk, cheese and other dairy foods. Plant based foods include green leafy vegetables like broccoli and cabbage (spinach doesn’t count as, although it contains calcium, it also contains oxalate which prevents calcium absorption!) soya products, nuts and fish where you eat the bones such as sardines.  As for vitamin D, oily fish, red meat, liver and egg yolk are good sources, and of course the sunshine – but be safe!  It’s also important to mention that conditions affecting bone mineral density such as Osteomalacia (age related decline in skins ability to synthesise vitamin D) and Rickets (poor absorption of calcium) are a result of vitamin D deficiency – ill cover vitamin D deficiency soon! Eat a variety of different foods as there’s plenty of other vitamins and minerals that contribute to your bone health.

It can be more difficult for vegans and vegetarians to get sufficient calcium and vitamin D in their diets as most sources are animal based and also more bio-available. It’s important to ensure you’re eating enough of the plant-based suggestions I mentioned earlier, and when buying plant-based milks and spreads etc check the labels and make sure they are fortified! Cutting dairy and meat out of your diet can mean you are missing out on important nutrients so do your research!

Physical activity

Move more. Anything is better than nothing. Take the stairs if you can, don’t sit down for more than 30 minutes – go for a stroll. Get a hobby – yoga, dancing, cycling. Join a running club. Even gardening and housework count.

Maintain a “healthy” weight

Try to maintain a “healthy” weight by eating a balanced diet, keeping active, getting enough sleep, managing stress etc etc. Although weight doesn’t equal health – when it comes to bone health, being underweight is linked to a higher risk of fractures and being overweight may be putting too much pressure on your bones and joints.

Limit the other stuff

Limit coffee, alcohol and salt intake and try and quit the cigs!

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