Maintaining Healthy Bones
Bones are alive and constantly changing, with new bone being made and old bone lost throughout our lives. In adults, the entire skeleton is completely replaced every seven to ten years.
Bones continue to grow in strength until our mid twenties, at which point bone density reaches its peak. After the age of 35, old bone starts to be lost at a faster rate than new bone can be formed to replace it. In some men and women this bone loss is so severe that their bones become weak, fragile and liable to break very easily. This condition is known as osteoporosis and it affects approximately three million people in the UK alone. Fortunately, you can take measures to reduce the risk of developing this disease, enabling you to maintain strong bones through to old age.
Avoiding broken bones
One in two women and one in five men over 50 will experience a broken bone, mainly
because of poor bone health. The most common bones to break are bones in the hip, spine
or wrist. Women are particularly at risk because during and after the menopause they
experience rapid bone loss when the ovaries stop producing the female hormone, oestrogen.
Whatever your age, there are some simple measures you can take to prevent yourself from
experiencing broken bones. These are:
- Avoid falls
- Eat a well balanced diet with enough calcium and vitamin D
- Take regular exercise, such as brisk walking, gardening, bowls or dancing
- Avoid smoking or excessive alcohol intake
Enjoying a well balanced diet
A healthy, balanced diet is needed to supply the body with energy, fibre and essential nutrients & vitamins An adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D is important to maintain bone health, as
you grow older. Try to include the following foods in your daily diet:
Foods containing calcium:
- Milk, cheese, yoghurt and other dairy products
- Tinned sardines and pilchards - including the soft bones
- Beans such as baked beans, kidney beans and lentils
- Okra, kale and broccoli
- Nuts and tahini
- Dried fruit such as figs, prunes, raisins and dates
Foods containing vitamin D:
- Oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, herring or salmon
- Fortified margarine
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Egg yolks
For more information on diet, contact the National Osteoporosis Society for their ‘Healthy Bones – facts about food' leaflet. www.nos.org.uk
Taking regular exercise
Regular exercise keeps bones strong. If you have osteoporosis you may need to be careful of vigorous exercise, but it is important to stay active and find something you enjoy. Even simple exercise such as walking to the shops will help keep your bones healthy. It also improves your balance and co-ordination, which helps to prevent falls. Contact the National Osteoporosis Society for its ‘Exercise and osteoporosis' leaflet. www.nos.org.uk
Alcohol and smoking
Too much alcohol and tobacco is harmful to bones. Keep the amount you drink within the recommended limits. The Department of Health runs a campaign called ‘Know your limits' which gives advice and information about drinking sensibly.
Visit its website at www.units.nhs.uk or call Drink line on 0800 876 6778.
If you smoke, consider giving up. Your Pharmacist will be able to offer support and advice on the options available to help you. Alternatively you can contact the NHS Quit Smoking helpline on 0800 022 4332 or visit www.smokefree.nhs.uk
Advice from GP
If you are worried that you may have fragile bones (for example if you have fallen over recently and broken a bone, or you have noticed that you are losing height and developing a stoop), talk to your GP. They will be able to assess whether you are at risk of developing, or have osteoporosis. If you already have fragile bones, your GP will be able to advise you on suitable treatments, which will prevent further bone loss.