Healthy bones keep us mobile, happy and active. Good bone density helps us to enjoy our older age. Here’s how you can work with your body to improve your bone health.

Why we lose bone density as we get older

Our body is constantly remodeling our bones. Osteoblasts build bone and osteoclasts break down bone that is no longer needed or isn’t functioning at its optimum. Before the age of 30, we build more bone than we break down. After the age of 30, the ratio changes slowly over time. But there are things we can do today to work with our body to create strong, healthy bones.

Which foods increase bone density?

We need to give our body the building blocks it needs to build bone. This means ensuring we are eating foods which are a good quality source of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K. If you prefer to not eat dairy or meat, there are a variety of other sources of calcium. Foods that contain calcium include:

  • dairy products
  • broccoli, cabbage, okra
  • soya beans, including edamame and tofu, if you can happily tolerate them
  • nuts, particularly almonds
  • seeds such as poppy, chia and sesame
  • figs (they also have potassium and vitamin K)
  • fish where you are also eating the bones

Cheese, fish rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, and egg yolks are great sources of vitamin D and to a smaller extent, vitamin K. Vitamin K can be found in dark green leafy vegetables and your brassicas (brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage).

If you are entering the menopausal journey, it’s important to ensure you have adequate amounts of calcium and magnesium in your diet either through food or supplementation. This is because oestrogen encourages your osteoblasts to get working. A reduction of oestrogen is a key factor in menopause.

What is the best vitamin for bone health?

Vitamin D, preferably in the form of vitamin D3 if you are taking it as a supplement, and vitamin K2 are the best vitamins for healthy bones.

Which exercise is best for bone health?

Your bones need a bit of stress to stay healthy. That is why weight bearing exercise encourages your osteoblasts to lay down more bone. Focus on exercise that is gentle as well as weight bearing if you have osteoporosis (the term for when your bones a weak and brittle) or arthritis. Great exercise options include: walking, yoga, pilates and tai chi. Tai chi has the added benefit of building balance which can reduce the risk of losing our balance and falling.

Say goodbye to the nicotine

Nicotine interferes with healthy bones in many ways. Orthopaedic Surgeon, Russell Stitzlein, says smoking reduces your bones’ blood supply and it interferes with the hormone calcitonin, thereby reducing the ability of your body to absorb calcium. It also affects the delicate balance of hormones, particularly oestrogen, and it increases cortisol. Nicotine reduces the production of osteoblasts. After the age of 30, our focus needs to be on working with our body to produce as many osteoblasts as we can.

Drink alcohol in moderation

If you drink alcohol, ensure your consumption falls within the definition of moderate (at the most) as too much alcohol interferes with our ability to absorb calcium and vitamin D. If you drink every day, moderate alcohol consumption is one standard drink a day for women and up to two standard drinks a day for men. A standard drink is a drink which contains 10g of pure alcohol. That’s less than you think it might be.

What is a standard drink?

  • 500ml glass of beer 4% alcohol has about 15.7g of pure alcohol = 1.6 standard drinks
  • 330ml bottle of beer 5% alcohol has about 13g of pure alcohol = 1.3 standard drinks
  • 330ml bottle of lite beer 2.5% alcohol has about 6.5g of pure alcohol = 0.7 of a standard drink
  • 100ml glass of wine 12.5% alcohol has about 9.8g of pure alcohol = 1 standard drink
  • 50ml tumbler of spirits 37.5% alcohol has about 14.7g of pure alcohol = 1.5 standard drinks
  • one 30ml shot of spirits 42% alcohol has about 9.9g of pure alcohol = 1 standard drink

Working with your body to optimise your bone health involves doing small things every day. As a guideline build in these 3 things:

  1. gentle weight bearing exercise for 30-minutes a day
  2. a diet rich is dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds with fish, meat or dairy products if you can happily tolerate them
  3. lifestyle adjustments so that if you drink, you drink in moderation, or swapping smoking for a different habit that fulfills the need for connection or relaxation