While we reach peak bone mass in our 20s, ‘it’s never too late to maintain bone health, and increase your bone density,’ says Professor Peter Ebeling, medical director of Osteoporosis Australia.
Lots of things can impact bone health, including asthma medications, menopause and osteoporosis, a condition affecting 1.2 million Australians. It can cause bones to fracture while doing something as simple as lifting heavy shopping bags. Use the ‘calcium, sunshine and exercise’ approach to protect bones.
1. Eat good sources of calcium
‘Dairy is the best and most absorbable form of calcium – your body incorporates it into the bones and teeth,’ says Dr Belinda Beck, director of research at The Bone Clinic. You may have heard negative things about dairy, such as that it makes you gain weight or it acidifies your blood. ‘There is absolutely no evidence for that,’ Belinda says. Three serves of dairy a day is all you need, so a glass of low-fat milk, a tub of yoghurt and a couple of slices of hard cheese covers it. A cappuccino or latte also counts towards your calcium intake. Not a fan of milk, or find it upsets your stomach? ‘Calcium-enriched soy milk is a good alternative,’ Peter says. Tofu, sardines, dried figs, chickpeas, spinach, tinned salmon and baked beans also contain calcium.
2. Get enough sunshine exposure
Your bones need vitamin D to be able to absorb the calcium from your diet, and the only way we can really get it is from sunshine. ‘We need about 800 units of vitamin D a day, and our diets only contain about 100,’ says Peter, who adds that 23 per cent of us are low in vitamin D.
How much sun do you need – and how much is safe?
In the summer months, get outside for a couple of minutes at midday, exposing your arms and your face to the sun. In winter do the same, but increase the time to around 30 minutes. Take your morning and afternoon tea breaks outside each day and you’ll easily make the quota. ‘But be sun-safe,’ Peter adds, recommending that you ‘use sunscreen if the UV index is 3 or more’.
3. Do the right kind of exercise
While walking is great for overall fitness, Belinda says that bones really need weight-bearing and high-intensity exercise. It’s not as daunting as it sounds – good bone-building exercises include playing tennis, walking with weights or dumbbells, jogging, aerobic and dance classes. Aim for 20 to 30 minutes, four times a week.
To find out how good your bone health is, try the free test at www.knowyourbones.org.au and see your GP if you have concerns.
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