5 natural ways to keep your bones healthy

There are simple things you can every day do to build stronger bones and reduce your risk of breaks and osteoporosis.

About 1.3 million Australians have osteoporosis, and women are more at risk because of hormonal changes and menopause.

More than one in five women and one in 20 men over the age of 65 develop osteoporosis.

Genetics and increasing age are risk factors – things you can’t change – but there are plenty of things you can do for a “bone-friendly” lifestyle.

Get enough ‘sunshine vitamin’ (safely)

Get out in the sunshine to maintain vitamin D,” says Osteoporosis Australia medical director Prof Peter Ebeling.

Vitamin D improves calcium absorption and sunshine is the best source of vitamin D – only a small amount of vitamin D is present in a normal diet. It’s produced when our skin is exposed to sunlight.

“In winter, try and get outside during the middle of the day but in certain parts of Australia, like Victoria and Tasmania, you may need a vitamin D supplement,” says Professor Ebeling.

Quit smoking

Research suggests that smoking increases the risk of vertebrae or spinal fractures by 13 per cent in women and 32 per cent in men.

And it increases the risk of hip fractures by 31 per cent for women and 40 per cent for men.

Include dairy in your diet

“Dairy foods are important for bone health as they are an excellent source of calcium, phosphorus, protein and other bone building nutrients,” says Dairy Australia dietitian Glenys Zucco.

“Milk and other dairy foods, like yoghurt and cheese, are the most readily available sources of calcium.”

Adults need 2.5 serves of dairy every day – and women over the age of 50 and men over 70 need four serves.

A serve is one tub of yoghurt, a glass of milk, or two slices of cheese. Non-dairy calcium sources include soy milk, almonds, tofu, kale, sesame seeds, broccoli, sweet potato, and oranges.

Maintain a healthy weight

Being underweight, or excessively overweight, can increase the risk of osteoporosis.

A low body mass index may increase the risk of fractures because low BMI is associated with lower bone mineral density. But an above-average BMI is also bad for bones.

“Lower limb fractures are more common in people who are overweight and have low muscle mass,” says Prof Ebeling. “Hormones associated with obesity may have a negative impact on bones.”

Do strength training workouts

Bones become stronger when impact or strain is placed on them – which is why weight-bearing exercise helps.

“Walking is not enough – it has to be brisk walking,” says Professor Ebeling.

“Dancing, stair-climbing, skipping, basketball, netball and tennis are also effective, as is high-intensity progressive resistance training using weights.”

Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise three to five times a week.

Written by Sarah Marinos.