Our bones are really important. While our bone health changes as we age, there are many steps we can take and things we can incorporate into our lives to ensure our bones are as healthy as possible.
Bone health has a wealth of research behind it, and scientists largely agree about the steps we can take to ensure we lower our risk of fractures, and remain healthy and mobile.
What do our bones do, and what happens to them as we get older?
Our bones have many important roles in the body, including protecting vital organs, anchoring our muscles and storing calcium.
Our bones are constantly changing, and new bone is made as old bone breaks down. When we’re younger, our bodies make new bone faster than it breaks down old bone, so we have a higher bone mass. This means bones are harder to break and fracture, and quicker to heal when they do. We reach peak bone mass around the age of 30, and after this, we start to lose more bone mass than we gain.
The differences between osteoporosis and arthritis
Arthritis is an umbrella term used to describe more than a hundred conditions that affect joints, where bones come together, and their surrounding tissues, and can affect knees, wrists, fingers, toes, and hips. It isn’t truly preventable, but having good bone health can lower the risk in some cases.
Osteoporosis is a condition where bones become weaker, and therefore more likely to fracture. Almost three million people in the UK have osteoporosis. It can progress undetected for many years without symptoms, in some cases until a bone fractures. Osteoporosis isn’t a natural part of ageing, and there are ways to prevent it.
A person’s risk of developing osteoporosis depends on how much bone mass they have at the age of 30, and how fast they start to lose bone mass from then on. The higher the peak bone mass, the lower the risk of developing osteoporosis later on in life.
Women are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis, as women have less bone tissue than men. Those with lower body mass indexes (BMI) or small frames also have less bone mass to draw on.
How to prevent symptoms of arthritis and osteoporosis
There are several ways to ensure bone health as you age, and prevent the onset of certain conditions, such as osteoporosis. Read on to find out more
1 – Exercise regularly
The first is regular exercise. Being inactive makes your muscles and bones lose strength, says the NHS, which increases your risk of osteoporosis, falls and fractures. It recommends that people over the age of 65 should get 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, in bouts of at least 10 minutes. This could be going for a walk, doing yoga, or gardening.
Exercises where you use your own weight, such as walking, jogging, doing push-ups or going up stairs, can also help build bone strength. Even better, if you’re able to lift light weights, such as dumbbells, this can help strengthen bones. Whatever exercise routine works for you, it’s important to ensure you involve all the body’s major muscle groups.
People with osteoporosis or arthritis share many coping strategies, and it’s important for both to incorporate exercises that stretch and strengthen the body, such as swimming, light yoga or tai chi. However, people with osteoporosis are often advised to avoid bending forward from the waist, twisting the spine, or lifting heavy weights. And those who have a high fracture risk or spinal fractures caused by osteoporosis must take special care with their backs, and may want to speak to their doctor before taking up an exercise routine.
People with these conditions must work at their own pace and stop when they feel any pain – and many find they benefit from exercise routines that also include physical therapy and rehabilitation.
2 - Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D
Another way to improve bone health is with a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. A diet low in calcium can increase the risk of lower bone density and fractures. It’s recommended that women under 50 and men under 70 get 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. This increases to 1,200 mg a day for women over 50 and men over 70.
Calcium-rich foods include dairy products, almonds, broccoli, kale, salmon, sardines and tofu. You can also take supplements if you find it difficult to reach the recommended daily amount through diet alone.
It’s also important to get enough vitamin D. Adults under the age of 70 are advised to get \ 600 international units a day, and 800 IU after that. Good sources of vitamin D include oily fish, such as salmon and tuna, mushrooms, eggs and foods fortified with vitamin D, such as some cereals.
But we make most of our vitamin D from sun exposure, so try to get exposure to the sun for short periods of time over spring and summer, making sure to wear sunscreen. You can also take vitamin D supplements, especially over the winter, when we don’t get vitamin D from the sun.
Check out our guide to senior nutrition for more information on this topic.
3 - Avoid smoking and drinking
Research has found a link between smoking and drinking and an increased risk of weak bones, so it’s best to avoid smoking or drinking more than one or two alcoholic drinks per day. Some medications also increase the risk of osteoporosis, so it’s best to speak to your doctor if this is something you’re concerned about.
For more advice and support, visit the Royal Osteoporosis Society’s website, or go to your GP if you have any concerns.
At SuperCarers, we can help you find the right home care for you, whether you need arthritis care or osteoporosis care, or simply need someone to help you with your day-to-day tasks. Give us a call on 020 8629 1030 to find out more, or download our Elderly Care Guide for free.