Don't let sticks and stones break your bones: slow down bone density loss
Insidious by nature, osteoporosis often isn’t diagnosed until you fracture or break a bone. If you’ve never gone through the trauma of a bone fracture or break, now is a good time to focus on preventative bone health.
Get your bone density tested so you understand your level of risk of broken bones. Increasing your Calcium and Vitamin D intake and incorporating strength training into your exercise routine, can help prevent bone fractures and slow down bone density loss.
Young bones are mostly rich in hard crystals comprising of minerals and particularly calcium and phosphorus. Almost 99% of our body’s calcium is found in our bones. It is these minerals that make our bones so strong. It’s the reason why a seven-year-old can go toppling over the handlebars of a bike going full speed downhill and spring up again and keep going, mostly bone injury free.
Up until a certain stage, these minerals are deposited and broken down from our bones. So, if our diet is lacking in calcium our bones ‘release’ the calcium our bodies need. As we age, we increasingly lose bone mass - because of the depletion of these dense minerals from our bones - at a pace faster than our body can replace them. Depletion of calcium and other minerals makes our bones weaker and more susceptible to fractures or breaks.
Hip fractures are one of the more serious risks of having low bone density. Not only is a hip fracture painful, it is a debilitating injury that requires significant healing time and loss of your independence in the meantime. And if you’re on blood thinning medications, an injury such as a broken bone could be life threatening.
According to Osteoporosis Australia and current Australian population statistics, almost one in four Australians are at heightened risk of bone fractures due to low bone density or osteopenia. Just under one in twenty Australians have been diagnosed as having osteoporosis with a high risk of bone fracture. That is a lot of risk walking our streets!
A bone density scan is used to measure the density of your bones. According to Osteoporosis Australia “you simply lie flat on a padded table [fully clothed] and the arm of the machine passes over your body.”
The earlier you have a bone density scan, the earlier you can act to slow down the deterioration of your bone health and manage fracture risks.
Try the ‘Know Your Bones’ health assessment right now sponsored by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Osteoporosis Australia. By answering several health and lifestyle questions, you’ll be emailed a report about your bone health and what steps, if any, you need to take to minimise your bone fracture risk.
Diet and exercise are the solutions for slowing down bone density loss and reducing the risk of bone fractures.
Make eating calcium rich foods a habit
Your bones were once a fruitful source of your body’s calcium needs, but with age your body isn’t necessarily replacing that calcium quickly enough. Increase your dietary intake of calcium rich foods to reduce the release of calcium from your bones.
Calcium rich foods include full and low-fat dairy foods such as milk, yoghurts and most cheeses. White cheeses such as ricotta, are particularly rich sources of calcium. Spinach and ricotta cannelloni is a great dinner to help ramp up your calcium. Or try fresh ricotta with fresh berries for breakfast!
If you are not able to eat dairy, other calcium-rich sources include tinned sardines or tinned salmon – with bones to crunch through. Almonds, brazil nuts, sesame seeds and dried apricots are rich sources of calcium too.
Leafy green leaves and vegetables are a good source, but you need to eat a lot more volume than you would, dairy.
See Nutrition Australia for the recommended daily calcium intake for all ages and good sources of calcium.
Sustain your calcium habit with Vitamin D
If calcium is working its way through your digestive system, you need Vitamin D to absorb calcium and reabsorb this essential mineral in your bones. You can think of Vitamin D as the Uber or taxi service for the calcium you’ve added to your diet. It makes sure that the calcium is picked up and then delivered to where it needs to go.
The best source of Vitamin D is sunlight absorbed directly through your skin. Even ten minutes exposure to direct sunlight a day can be beneficial – more is better and on strong UV days try and absorb sunlight when the UV levels are lower for shorter periods of time. Unlike calcium, rich food sources of Vitamin D are harder to find. Oily fish, margarine and fortified milk varieties supply some Vitamin D. If your Vitamin D levels are low, a supplement may be recommended by your medical practitioner.
There is a lot of information readily available online, but your most reliable source of information about slowing down bone density loss, is your doctor.
Strengthen your body and protect your bones
Regardless of bone density, preventing physical injury is best achieved by strengthening and stretching your body, regularly. According to Osteoporosis Australia, “our bones become stronger when a certain amount of impact or extra strain is placed on them.”
For a great summary of selected exercise on bone health, visit Osteoporosis Australia > Exercise.
Don’t discover your bone density in the emergency department of your local hospital. Act today, book in an appointment with your doctor and ask for a referral to have a bone density scan. In the meantime, review your diet and make sure that calcium-rich foods end up on your weekly grocery list. And enjoy daily sunshine on your skin and work in some outdoor strength or resistance training. Build strong bones and reduce your risk of bone fractures.
References and helpful resources
Osteoporosis Australia – a national not-for-profit organisation responsible for providing osteoporosis information and services to the community and health professionals.
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