Did you know there are a staggering 206 bones in our bodies?
Our skeletons aren’t just there to give our body its shape (without it we wouldn’t be more than a blob of tissue!); each bone provides a vital role too. From our femur, the large thigh bone that supports the weight of the body, to our stapes, the tiny bone in the middle ear that helps transmit sound.
This is why it’s important to keep your bones strong and healthy, so they can carry out their particular function. Want to know how to strengthen bones? Keep scrolling for core exercises, bone-strengthening foods and more…
So what do our bones do for us?
They provide support and structure, protect our vital organs – like our brains and lungs – and, along with our muscles, they also help us move. Some lesser-known jobs include helping regulate our calcium levels and producing red and white blood cells in the bone marrow inside larger bones.
What is osteoporosis?
This condition, where bone density and quality is reduced, affects an estimated 200 million women worldwide – and middle-aged women are more susceptible.
‘After menopause, when the protective effect of oestrogen on the bone is removed, there is often an accelerated rate of bone loss,’ explains physiology professor Craig Sale. This increases your chance of suffering a bone fracture.
Read more: How to relieve back pain without medication
It’s recommended that you maintain sufficient levels of calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium, and stay active to reduce your risk of falling. Women who are 65 and over should also get a bone density scan once every two years.
How do we keep bones healthy?
Our bones, like other essential parts of our body including our hearts, brains and liver, need to be looked after, especially as we get older.
‘Bone mass increases quite rapidly during childhood and adolescence, and we normally obtain peak bone mass between our mid to late twenties,’ explains Craig. ‘After this, there is a period of bone mass maintenance during middle age, before age-related decline as we enter older age.’
The trick is to start healthy habits young and continue them.
Like muscles, our skeleton becomes stronger when we exercise. The force of muscles pulling against our bones stimulates the bone-building process, improving your bone health.
Keeping fit throughout the decades is key. It helps to build strength when we’re younger and maintain it as we grow older. ‘It can help delay the rate of age-related bone loss,’ says Craig. He recommends high-intensity workouts and multidirectional movements – think Zumba or circuit training.
Exercise helps to improve your balance and coordination, which, in turn, reduces the risk of falls. Using weights, as well as walking, is particularly helpful in keeping bones strong.
Foods for strong bones
More than 99% of your body’s calcium is stored in your bones and teeth. If levels drop too low, your blood will pull calcium out of your bones to help with other functions, like blood clotting and maintaining heart health, muscle and nerve function.
- Recommended daily intake: 1 000mg
- Good sources: Salmon, sardines, dairy (milk, cheese, yoghurt), leafy greens, oranges.
Vitamins D & K
Both of these play a vital role in helping your body absorb calcium to keep your bones healthy. A lack of vitamin D can lead to bone deformities, such as rickets in children, and osteomalacia (bone softening) in adults.
Recent studies show that vitamin K helps to keep calcium in the bones (but if you’re on blood-thinning medication, up your vitamin K with caution).
A blood test can determine whether you are deficient and if you need to top up levels with a supplement.
- Recommended daily intake: Vitamin D: 15mcg; vitamin K: 90mcg
- Good sources of vitamin D: Oily fish, such as tuna, mackerel and salmon, eggs and meat. The majority of our vitamin D comes from our skin’s exposure to sunlight.
- Good sources of vitamin K: Green leafy vegetables (kale, Swiss chard), broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, fish, liver, eggs.
An abundant mineral in the body, with 50 to 60% found in bones. It’s needed for the structural development of bones and ensuring the parathyroid glands, which excrete hormones that help regulate calcium levels, work normally. It can help prevent, and treat, osteoporosis.
- Recommended daily intake: 320mg
- Good sources: Spinach, black beans, brown rice, nuts, wholewheat bread.
Top tip: Try Clover Duo, a fortified dairy fruit mix, which is packed with calcium and vitamins, including vitamin D.