How to keep bones healthy

When we’re young, we’re led to believe that certain foods have special powers. You know, the Old Wives’ tales that suggest eating bread crusts makes hair grow curly, cheese before bed causes nightmares, and brown eggs are healthier than white.

While there’s no scientific proof for any of that, there are certainly foods with real ‘special powers’, — like calcium rich foods that work to strengthen your bone health and density. This is because bone is a living tissue that breaks down and rebuilds itself, made of collagen (which provides a soft foundational framework) and calcium phosphate (which hardens the framework and makes bones stronger).

How to improve bone density naturally
Our bones grow by absorbing various nutrients and minerals throughout childhood, adolescence and early adulthood until we reach our peak bone mass, which is predetermined from birth and largely dictated by our genetics, around the age of thirty. After that, our bones continue to change and remodel, but the decline in bone mass begins as our body breaks down old bone faster than it gains new bone — which is why it’s important to achieve your predetermined peak and have as much mass “in the bank” before bone density starts to decline.

Bones are intrinsically linked to your overall health and wellbeing. They protect your organs so they can function optimally, anchor your muscles, and allow you to enjoy the freedom of movement. If there’s not enough bone mass produced during the critical years, you’re at a greater risk of breaking bones* or developing osteoporosis — a disease that causes bones to become brittle and weak.

Fortunately, protecting your bone health is easier than you might think. Below are some nutrition and lifestyle tips to help boost and maintain your bone density.

Introduce more calcium to your diet
Calcium is the main mineral that contributes to bone strength and structure, so ensuring there’s enough calcium in your diet is vital to protect your bone health. It’s recommended we consume around 1000mg of calcium a day, but interestingly, calcium is best absorbed when taken in smaller doses. This is because the body can only assimilate around 500mg of calcium at a time (whether that be from a meal or supplement), so when the dose increases above that level, absorption decreases.

Put simply, it’s best to spread your calcium intake throughout the day rather than devouring 1000mg of calcium all at once — so although the jury is still out as to whether cheese before bed causes nightmares, you’re probably not going to get the nutritional value you need if the only calcium you’re getting in your diet is a plate of cheese for dessert.

In addition to milk products, include other calcium rich foods such as seeds, leafy vegetables, soybeans and salmon in your diet. In need of some calcium-rich recipe inspiration?

Ensure you’re getting enough vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a number of roles in bone health, and is especially helpful in aiding the body’s absorption of calcium. Without sufficient vitamin D your body can’t process calcium from diet alone and is forced to take from existing calcium reserves stored in the skeleton, weakening bones as a consequence. Your body creates vitamin D when skin is exposed to sunlight (think of it as solar charging for your body) and the mineral can also be found in a number of foods such as egg yolks, oily fish and red meat.

To up your intake, try to get in the habit of going for a daily walk or making time to be outside every day, and make a conscious effort to bring some of your everyday rituals outdoors — whether that is meal times or a morning meditation.

Add weight-bearing exercises and resistance training to your workouts
Strength training is known to promote new bone growth and maintain existing bone structure, as well as reducing inflammation and increasing muscle mass. Examples of weight-bearing activities include high intensity interval training (HIIT), hiking, skipping, boxing and playing tennis.

You don’t need to be a weightlifter to incorporate weight-bearing exercises into your day. Essentially, any exercise where your body has to work against gravity will help strengthen both bone and muscle. For a low impact approach, a guided pilates, Qigong or yoga class is a great place to start.

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