26th November, 2014

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Building your bones – what can you do to optimise bone density?

Osteoporosis literally means ‘bones with holes’. It occurs when bones lose minerals such as calcium more quickly than the body can replace them. They become less dense, lose strength and break more easily. Until a fracture occurs, osteoporosis has no obvious symptoms and so in many cases, goes undiagnosed. It is estimated that for Australians aged 50 and over, 1 in 4 men and 2 in 5 women will experience a minimal trauma fracture in the future. Bone fractures are both painful and debilitating, so it is worth being aware of the lifestyle factors we can change to reduce the likelihood of fractures occurring.

Diet – almost 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in our bones, so if our dietary intake is inadequate, our body will use calcium from our bones. Women over 50 and men over 70 are recommended 1300mg of calcium a day. That equates to 3-5 serves of calcium rich food every day!

Vitamin D – vitamin D is essential for strong bones as it helps the body absorb calcium and regulate calcium levels in the blood. One method of Vitamin D absorption is through sunlight on our skin. Recommended amounts of daily sun exposure for fair skin are 7 – 30 mins in winter and 5 – 10 mins in summer. Vitamin D is also found in particular foods such as fatty fish (e.g. salmon and tuna) and some mushrooms.
Sleep – the effect of sleep on bone is an area still to be researched more thoroughly, however, there is some research that suggests obtaining optimal sleep may benefit bone health. In a study of 602 Chinese women – those who slept 6 hours or less had lower bone density that those who slept 8 hours. This may be due to changes in hormone levels involved in bone health.

Exercise – Exercise throughout life helps build and maintain bone density. The loading of bone through exercise creates strain and deformation on the bone structure. This stimulates improvements in bone strength, either by increasing bone density or size, or both. The most effective type of exercises for building bone strength are;
• Weight-bearing
• Dynamic, varied and exceed normal loading patterns
• High intensity, low repetition weight training
It’s important to note that in adults the benefits of bone building exercise will also only last while the exercise is continuing. Ceasing exercise will reverse the effect on the bones. The mantra of ‘use it or lose it’ works again!