Have you done something to boost your bone health today? If not, you could be selling your bones short. Literally. Most women naturally lose about a centimetre in height every decade after their 40s. But if you don’t give your bones enough TLC, by your ‘midult’ years, your bones may not be going strong.
Women who lose height have a higher risk of a hip fracture down the track. “Height loss can indicate osteoporosis, which often shows no signs until it’s quite advanced and a fracture occurs,” says Dr Greg Lyubomirsky, CEO of Osteoporosis Australia. “If loss of height measures 3cm or more, it should be quickly investigated with an X-ray to check for small fractures of the spine, which a woman might not even realise she has.”
At this point, medication and lifestyle changes are used to try to prevent further problems. But prevention is better than cure. So act now to protect your bones. All over your body, from your spine and wrists, to your legs and ankles, your bones are in a continuous state of ‘remodelling’, where old bone is replaced by new bone. This means that, at every age, your habits could be making or potentially breaking your bones. To shore up your strength and stop shrinkage, adopt these bone-friendly habits.
1. JUMP TO IT
Like muscles, bones need to be challenged to get stronger or stay strong. “Bone cells grow in response to the ‘loading’ of impact exercise, such as skipping and hopping, which involves jumping and landing,” says Professor Belinda Beck, an expert in bones and exercise at Queensland’s Griffith University and The Bone Clinic. “Resistance training, such as lifting weights, also benefits bone strength and balance.”
Just like muscle strength, ‘use it or lose it’ also applies to your bones. “To keep bones strong and healthy, you need to keep exercising throughout life,” Prof Beck says. If you’ve been a couch potato for quite some time, it can take around six months of regular exercise before the positive bone benefits occur. Pushed for time this week? Then do some star jumps or run on the spot for two minutes.
2. FEED YOUR BONES
Bones are not like concrete: they don’t set for life. If your calcium levels drop too low, your body withdraws as much as it needs to keep up important functions like blood clotting and muscle contraction. Your bones may then become thinner and less dense, bumping up your risk of developing osteoporosis, which affects one in four women over 75. The best protection? You know the drill: a little calcium a day keeps bone problems at bay.
To give your bones a strong hold, your calcium intake per day should be two-and-a-half serves of dairy (1000mg) from ages 19-50 and four-plus serves (1300mg) for women aged 51 and over. “One serve is either one glass of milk, 40g of cheddar cheese, or a 200g tub of yoghurt,” says dietitian Melissa Meier. “Other good sources of calcium include canned fish (with edible bones) and calcium-fortified rice milk and soy milk.”
3. SEEK A LITTLE SUN
Some 90 per cent of our supply of vitamin D is made from sunlight exposure directly onto the skin (not through glass). This happens when the sun’s UV rays are absorbed and make a compound called 7-dehydrocholesterol, a ‘cousin’ of healthy cholesterol, which then helps your skin produce vitamin D. As well as entering your bloodstream, vitamin D also taxis to your gut, where it helps absorb the bone-building minerals calcium and phosphate.
According to the Cancer Council, most of us get enough sun exposure just through incidental activities like hanging out the washing or walking the dog. “But if you tend to spend most of your day indoors, make a point of getting a few minutes of sun exposure in the morning or mid-afternoon outside of the hottest periods of the day,” Dr Lyubomirsky says. Concerned about your vitamin D levels? Then ask your doctor to order a blood test to have them checked. If your vitamin D levels are low, supplements may be recommended.
4. BE SAVVY ABOUT WHAT YOU SIP
The drinks you choose every day can boost or blitz your bone health. So smarten up about our choice of beverage: Cola: Women who drink cola (even decaffeinated) have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. A US study found that women who drink three or more cola drinks a day had almost four per cent lower bone mineral density at the hip. The problem is not the caffeine – it appears to be due to the phosphoric acid in cola, which leaches calcium from bones.
Smoking and Alcohol: Smoking in any amount has a detrimental effect on bone density, while excessive alcohol intake has been shown to increase bone loss. Aim for no more than two alcoholic drinks per day and have one to two alcohol-free days every week.
Tea: Enjoy your cuppa. Research has shown that women who drink tea have higher bone density – possibly due to the high antioxidant content of tea. Just make sure that you don’t take calcium supplements within an hour of your English breakfast or orange pekoe as the tannin in the tea can bind with the calcium, making it less available to strengthen bones in your body.
5. STRESS LESS
Stress can increase your levels of cortisol, which can impact on the osteoblasts that help build bones. So chill out. Enjoy more activities that make you feel great, such as catching up with girlfriends or spending some time in nature – especially doing a spot of gardening.
US research has found regular gardening can be as good for strong bones as pumping iron in the gym. Good reason to stop and smell the roses!