If you work out regularly and eat a healthy diet, I am sure you hope you are relatively strong, fit & healthy and from looking strong on the outside, hopefully most of us are on the inside. However, there is a silent disease which is sweeping our nation (and that is not Covid), which is reaching epidemic proportions.
Bone decline or what’s commonly known as Osteoporosis, is on the increase and in frightening numbers. We may think that this is an old person’s disease but an estimated 3 million people in the UK suffer from osteoporosis (10 million in the US), 1 in 3 women and 1 in 12 men over the age of 50!
Shockingly, 1 in 2 women & 1 in 5 men in the UK will suffer an osteoporosis related fracture after the age of 50. These numbers are ever increasing as our aging population grows. Currently osteoporosis fractures are costing the UK £1.7 billion per annum.
What is even more saddening, is that Osteopenia (early Osteoporosis) and osteoporosis can be avoided if we take action well in advance of our older years!
Bone Mass Behaviour
Up until our late teens, early 20’s our bones are growing and increasing in mass/density. During our mid 20’s to early 30’s bone formation stabilises as our bodies settle. However, from around 35 -55 bone loss begins and increases rapidly.
More concerning for women, is that bone loss becomes rapid in the first few years of menopause as oestrogen and calcium levels decrease. Regardless of how dense bones are before we head into menopause, we all lose a huge percentage of bone mass due to changing hormones.
Whether or not we develop osteoporosis or its degree, will depend on two factors; how much bone mass we BEGIN with and how much bone mass we LOSE.
This is why encouraging our children & young adults to engage in weight-bearing activities and to eat a well-balanced diet, is essential to build up their bone bank.
Even more important is to continue to build our bone mass throughout our 30’s & 40’s before natural aging occurs. The GOOD NEWS is that we can even in later years increase our bone density and help reverse the loss of bone mass.
Ways in which to build bone mass
The food we eat has a significant effect on our bones and rebuilding and maintaining bone cells. Aiming to stick to an alkaline diet where possible will help the body avoid calling on calcium reserves from our bones. Reducing the intake of meat, dairy, eggs, alcohol, coffee, farmed fish, wheat flour, refined sugars etc can help with maintaining a neutral PH. Instead increasing our intake of green leafy vegetables, using alternative grains, such as quinoa or spelt and having a cleaner, balanced diet is as we know, the key to a healthy lifestyle.
Fizzy drinks, including sparkling water, poses a risk to our bones due to their high level of phosphorous. This depletes our calcium reserves long term effecting our bone density. So, aim to stick to water from the tap and replace those fizzy drinks with herbal teas or fruit juice.
It is reported that 50%-70% of the population is deficient in Vitamin D. We need at least 30mg/l in our bloodstream to help with calcium absorption in our bodies. Due to and increasing lack of sun exposure (more of the population now working from offices) and the concern about skin cancer, we tend not to absorb enough vit D. Taking supplements is one way to ensure you are hitting your target levels.
One of the most effective ways to grow bone density and maintain it, is through exercise. Our bones are in a constant state of turnover, breaking down old bone cells and building new ones. Bone regeneration responds to INTENSITY NOT DURATION so choosing the right exercise is essential. For our bodies to regenerate bone, it needs to endure a force greater that it is used to…not a repetition of the same amount of force, such a walking.
Impact and weight bearing (resistance training) exercises such as Pilates, LIIT (low intensity interval training) and impact HIIT (high intensity interval training) or the use of weights, are all great for adding a force to our body and aiding the regeneration of bone. It is important to note that after 10mins of one particular exercise the development of new bone stops (so going for prolonged runs will not mean you generate more bone mass). Resistance training in particular (using your body weight is a good option), helps build strong bones because the mechanical force of these exercises encourages the growth of new bone cells.
We must not forget that cardiovascular fitness is important for our overall health however, exercise such as swimming, walking, cycling does not generally help with bone turnover and increasing density due to the lack of force place on the body.
To help with both muscle and bone development and overall health, mixing your workouts up and making sure you have some impact & weight bearing exercise, is a great way to ensure you support your body and stay fit and strong for life.