It’s never too soon to begin building a body for life
Link to article: https://www.womenshealthmag.com/uk/health/female-health/a708955/bones/
A quick factoid for you: Bones are, ounce for ounce, stronger than steel and four times as strong as concrete, and one cubic inch could bear the load of around five pick-up trucks. Impressive, right?
So, when was the last time you considered what the impact of your day-to-day lifestyle choices was on them?
But building your bones is something that you can – and should – be doing now. Because, when it comes to keeping you tip top and functioning for the long run, looking after your bone health is best done with a ‘little and often’ approach. Waiting for a wake-up call tumble just isn’t cool – or fun.
The good news is that building healthy bones for life is easy and, chances are, you’re already ticking off a lot of the right boxes.
Keep reading for the WH guide to healthy bones and find out how to keep the likes of osteoporosis at bay in the process.
What Are Bones?
You have a whopping 206 of them – the majority of which are in your hands and feet – but far from being inanimate, clothes hangers for your skin, bones are very much living and constantly changing structures that not only hold you up, but protect all your organs, too.
Most people hit peak bone mass in their late 20s with the amount of bone tissue decreasing slowly from around 35. That said, if you’re past that marker, it’s by far an excuse to kick back and give up. After all, says Sarah Leyland, consultant nurse for the National Osteoporosis Society, women are more susceptible to osteoporosis (which is also related to hormone balance), and, because we live longer and tend to have smaller bones than men, it’s key to be taking steps at every age and stage of our lives to keep bones strong.
‘Bone health affects everyone, and healthy living is important throughout life for building strong bones and to prevent, as far as possible, the loss of bone strength that occurs as a natural part of the ageing process,’ says Leyland. ‘Ultimately, young people who don’t do something to build strong bones during these important years may be putting themselves at greater risk of osteoporosis – and broken bones – in later life.’
And far from being an ‘older person’s disease’, osteoporosis affects almost three million people in the UK and is believed to be the cause of one fracture every minute.
What Can Cause Bones To Weaken?
1. POOR DIET
Although calcium and vitamin D are essential building blocks of your bones – and 11% and 16% of adult women are deficient in these nutrients, respectively – bones also need the likes of magnesium, boron, zinc and B vitamins to stay healthy, says Leyland. ‘The best way to get these is eating healthily and including a range of different foods to provide all the nutrients your bones need.’
It’s why not only should all of you make sure you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet, but those following a vegan diet or opting for dairy-free alternatives should also pay particular care that the omitted nutrients are being replaced with other nutrient-dense alternatives – and a supplement.
‘The sad fact of the matter is that the nutritional value of food today is up to 50% less what is was 50 years ago,’ says Oliver Eaton, clinical director of the ProHealth Clinic. ‘This is due to changes in food production and farming practices. In addition, the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food lessens as you get older, meaning the likes of your bones won’t be nourished as efficiently as they would be in your late teens and early 20s. I, therefore, recommend that everyone take a strong multivitamin daily to compensate.’
2. EXERCISE HABITS
Bones require a little bit of force to go through to keep them strong. So, if you find yourself sat at your desk far more than you’d like, or constantly tired and blowing off the best city runs, it could be that yours are feeling a little unloved.
‘Walk, jogging, lunging, squatting and light circuits are all good examples of weight bearing exercises that can promote bone health,’ says Eaton. ‘The secret is to not go overboard – exercising excessively can be bad for joints. Three times a week for at least half an hour, is enough.’
You don’t have to bend it like Yoga Girl to benefit your bones but the pros of staying even just a bit supple shouldn’t be overlooked.
‘Stretching is key for healthy bones,’ says Eaton. ‘Bones and muscles work together in partnership so if your muscles are tight, this will negatively impact on your bones and joints. If you fall, the ideal is for the force to be absorbed into healthy muscles as opposed to the bones themselves. Try to incorporate five minutes into your daily routine or attend a weekly yoga class.’
Leyland also recommends challenging your bones with changing patterns of activity such as walk jogging.
There’s a reason why women are more at risk of osteoporosis than men: hormones. As oestrogen levels begin to decline around the time of menopause (or, fyi, early menopause), bones start to become more brittle. ‘It’s why it’s important to prepare for the inevitable,’ says Eaton, ‘To lessen the impact of hormone change as you get older.’
But hang on a minute. If changing hormone levels can impact bone health, what about your contraceptive pill? Another reason for coming of the pill this is not, however. According to Leyland, research is yet to show any connection between oral contraceptives and osteoporotic fractures (broken bones due to low bone strength).
‘If, however, your periods have stopped inexplicably, it’s worth looking into why,’ she says. ‘Although this doesn’t always mean you have low levels of oestrogen, it sometimes can, and this is important to have checked out.’
5. MEDICAL CONDITIONS
According to the National Osteoporosis Society, conditions such as coeliac disease, which reduce the body’s ability to absorb calcium, are important to diagnose early to protect bone health and the likelihood of developing osteoporosis.
Equally, if you have had or have any form of eating disorder, you may also be at heightened risk of weakened bones. Low hormone levels and reduced muscle strength associated with a low body weight can affect bone health, so it’s important to get medical advice early on if you’re dieting to excess or have an eating disorder.
How much have you spent on commuting over the past 12 months? Now compare that to the amount you’ve doled out on servicing yourself. Thought as much.
‘People are often too busy to think about what’s going on in their bodies until it’s too late,’ says Eaton. ‘However, getting your alignment checked regularly by an osteopath is one the major preventative measures someone can take to protect their bones and joints. I recommend a check every three months; it’s surprising how quickly problems can arise if your body isn’t moving with balance. A lot of arthritis problems track back to a misalignment.’
If brittle bones run in your family, soz, but you may be more likely to develop them yourself. Take this as an early warning sign to take bone strengthening action today, and to consult a bone health specialist if you’ve any concerns.
How Do I Know How Healthy My Bones Are?
This is a tough one – after all, your bones are so well buried that you can’t see them to find out whether your current lifestyle choices are taking a positive or negative toll.
And bone density checks won’t really tell you much until your quite a bit older.
‘The only real sign is unexpectedly getting a broken bone,’ says Leyland. ‘For example, if you fall from standing height. Ultimately, we should all be following the healthy lifestyle messages for strong bones. Only if you’ve had years of anorexia, or have symptoms of another such medical condition, might it be beneficial to go for a bone check that might involve bone density scanning.’
The Bones-Building Eating Plan
It is well known that vitamin D and calcium are the building blocks of bones, but did you know that collagen, too, is important for bone health?
‘Collagen plays an essential role in supporting your bones, simply as it’s the main component of the bone,’ says registered nutritionist Dora Walsh. ‘You start to lose 1% of collagen every year from the age of 25, so looking after your collagen levels from an early age, could help safeguard your bones for the future.’
Here, Walsh recommends the top collagen-supporting essentials to have in your diet:
‘Collagen is a protein, therefore including proteins in your meals can help provide some of the basic amino acids to produce it. Think salmon, mackerel, seafood, lean chicken and turkey, as well as raw nuts and seeds.’
2. BONE BROTH
‘The current craze in bone broth boils down to the fact it’s very rich in collagen, which is so beneficial to the body. Amongst other things, bone broth contains chains of collagen derived protein amino acids which can provide the building blocks for collagen synthesis.’
3. VITAMIN C
‘Vitamin C is directly involved in the production of collagen. It is necessary for creating hyaluronic acid, which is naturally found in the body but decreases as we age. Hyaluronic acid is understood to help keep collagen synthesis up, so eating foods rich in vitamin C could help to restore hyaluronic acid levels and, in turn, levels of collagen. Vitamin C is also needed for the body to execute the pre-collagen production phase. I would recommend adding brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, such as peppers, berries, cabbage, spinach, dark green vegetables such as kale and broccoli.’
‘Minerals are often much less talked about in terms of their nutritional value; however, they are equally as important. Zinc is essential in ‘collagen synthesis’, meaning it aids the body in its natural collagen production and creation of collagen fibres, which in turn support healthy bones. Oysters are the richest source of zinc, containing on average 74 milligrams per serving, compared to the next richest source, beef, which contains 7 milligrams per serving. Other seafood such as lobster and crab are also rich sources of zinc. As a general rule, plant-based foods contain less zinc as they do not absorb the mineral so well, however, I would recommend for vegans and vegetarians to find good sources of zinc in almonds, chickpeas and kidney beans.’
‘Copper is another mineral vital for collagen synthesis, particularly playing a role in the activity of the connective tissue and therefore ensuring that the collagen is part of this, creating strong bones. The body does not make copper itself, which is why it’s important to find it in the diet. Copper can be found in rich foods such as dark chocolate, chickpeas and raisins. Copper also has the added benefit of acting as an antioxidant, helping prevent damage to skin cells and tissues, helping avoid tissue damage around the muscles and bones, too.’
6. VITAMIN E
‘Vitamin E is another great food source to help collagen productive. It works with vitamin C to help collagen production and synthesis within the body. Find it in high concentrations in a vast amount of oils and nuts. Sunflower oil and Wheat Germ Oil have the highest concentration of vitamin E, while almonds, hazelnuts and almond oil are other good sources.’
Alternatively, try a supplement such as Care Collagen Joint Formula (£17.95, Tesco).
The Bones-Building Workout Plan
It is no secret that regular exercise is necessary in order to remain healthy and keep your bones strong, and one of the most effective forms of training for this is weight training. This is because weight training stimulates osteoblasts, which are the bone cells that encourage bone growth.
High intensity exercise has a similar effect, so plyometric moves are also great to incorporate into your workout regime.
Here, Kira Mahal, PT and CEO of MotivatePT shares her top four bone-strengthening moves:
1. SQUAT JUMPS
‘High-impact exercises are brilliant as they encourage the bone cells to form more bone. As a result, exercises such as squat jumps or jumping lunges, or even running, are beneficial for bone growth. A great way to further bone cell growth during your next run would be to pause halfway through and do 10-12 squat jumps. Other jumping moves, which include skipping, also have similar benefits.’
Get your technique nailed with our guide to how to do a squat jump.
2. HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING
‘Interval training, which involves periods of high intensity exercise, followed by short rest, can improve bone health. The high-intensity intervals put pressure on the bone, releasing growth hormone and stimulating bone growth. A great way to implement this form of exercise would be to perform a Tabata workout for around four minutes, in which 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest is required. For this style of training, exercises such as star jumps, tuck jumps, mountain climbers or box jumps work well.’
3. WEIGHT TRAINING
‘Weight training is essential for bone growth. There are countless brilliant weight-based exercises, however the most effective would be compound movements, which employ multiple muscles within the body, such as squats and deadlifts. Try and incorporate a weight-based workout into your fitness regime a couple of times a week.
‘Deadlifts are fantastic as they require almost every muscle in the body to be working, encouraging testosterone production which is beneficial for bone health. Try to perform the exercise for three sets of 12 reps.
‘Some other great weight-based exercises which target the upper body are a dumbbell chest press and bent over row, which should be performed for three sets of 10-12 reps.’
‘Lastly, yoga is brilliant for both the body and the mind, and has been shown to have a beneficial impact on bone density. Try and do a yoga flow a couple of times a week every morning – there are lots of free fantastic yoga flows online.’