How to keep your bones healthy and strong

By Jody Vassallo

How to keep your bones healthy and strong
A diet rich in calcium, combined with the right exercise, 
will ensure your body’s foundation stays strong as you get older, MiNDFOOD reports.

There are small lifestyle changes needed to prevent osteoporosis. A diet rich in calcium, combined with the right exercise, will ensure your body’s foundation stays strong.

Strong, healthy bones allow us to have freedom, flexibility and mobility – things we often take for granted. We have 206 bones in our body; they are responsible for the way we walk, stand, sit, squat, kneel, write, chew and breathe. As we get older, the integrity of our bones can begin to diminish, due to such factors as age, lack of exercise or genetic predisposition. Osteoporosis causes bones to become porous, fragile and brittle, which leads to an increased risk of breaks or fractures. Loss of bone density most commonly occurs in the hips, spine and wrists and can be extremely painful and debilitating.

Bones are continually renewed through the processes of resorption and formation – breaking down and rebuilding. Once we reach the age of 30, bone is lost at a faster rate than it is built. Osteoporosis more commonly occurs in the elderly or in women after menopause. In fact, women are five times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. Why? Well, women naturally have smaller, thinner bones and after menopause the levels of oestrogen (which is a bone-protecting hormone) decline. Following menopause, women are at risk of losing up to 20 per cent of their bone mass.

Prevention is key when it comes to osteoporosis. Once you have it, it cannot be cured. Diet and exercise are the two things that doctors focus on when it comes to treating people living with the condition. For bones to remain healthy and strong, we need to ensure we maintain adequate levels of protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and vitamin D in our diet.

Calcium is the main ingredient the body uses to make and maintain bones. The human body cannot manufacture the mineral, however, so we need to get it in our diet (see box, below left). Less than half of all Australians get their daily recommended requirements, while about 25 per cent of New Zealanders have an inadequate calcium intake. Certain lifestyle factors can also deplete calcium levels, such as smoking, alcohol, caffeine, a diet high in animal protein and soft drinks that contain phosphates.


Consume dairy products. Calcium is more easily absorbed from dairy than most other food groups. If you can’t drink regular milk, then almond or soy milk are good, calcium-rich substitutes.

Add yoghurt to muesli, smoothies, soups, curries, salad dressings and desserts.

Include herbs such as mint, parsley or rocket in your vegetable or fruit juice.

Incorporate greens in as many ways as you can: wilted, steamed, added to pastas, soups or curries, or pureed.

Eat plenty of canned salmon; their soft bones are rich in calcium.

Use tahini as a spread on sandwiches and wraps, or in dips, sauces and dressings.

Add seeds (chia, poppy, sesame, dill, anise, caraway, cumin and coriander) 
to anything and everything.

Vitamin D plays a vital role in calcium absorption and is best obtained from its most natural source – the sun. A 20-minute walk in the early morning sunshine is ideal.


Weight-bearing exercise is recommended for people with osteoporosis, but is also advised for those looking to maintain bone strength, including growing children and young adults. The healthier our bones are when we are young, the better chance we have of maintaining bone strength throughout our lives.

Weight-bearing exercise is done standing up so that gravity can exert its force. Bones are strengthened when they are required to bear minimal impact or a slight strain. Take care – too much force can lead to injury or fracture. Not all types of exercise are recommended for people with osteoporosis as they may be too high-impact for weak, brittle bones. Talk to your doctor or physiotherapist before you begin.

Recommended exercises include jogging, brisk walking, tennis, netball, yoga, dancing, bowling and tai chi. Swimming and cycling are not weight-bearing exercises but they will help maintain muscle strength, which is also very important.


This is also recommended to help maintain the strength and health of your bones. Whenever bones feel a strain from extra pressure, such as a weight being lifted, they increase mass in order to bear the weight. Some examples of resistance training include lifting weights (turn to page 68 for a strength-building resistance workout you can 
do at home), doing push-ups, using a rowing machine or swimming and cycling.


Children five to nine 
should aim for two to three serves of calcium-rich foods each day (800-1000mg).

Children and adolescents nine to 18
should aim for at least three serves of 
calcium-rich foods per day (1000-1300mg).

Adults up to the age of 51 
should aim for at least two serves of 
calcium-rich foods a day (1000mg).

Postmenopausal women 
should aim for at least three serves of calcium-rich foods a day (1000-1300mg).

For adults over 70
1300mg of calcium a day is recommended.

National Health and medical research council of Australia


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