Eight science-based steps you can take right now to lower your risk of osteoporosis


How strong are your bones? Even if you think you’ll be fit and healthy in middle age, the reality is that half of women and a quarter of men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. According to the Irish Osteoporosis Society (IOS), up to 300,000 people in Ireland suffer from weakened bones and anyone of any age is at risk.

“We reach our peak of bone health around the age of 30,” says Michele O’Brien, CEO of IOS. “But anyone is at risk for bone loss at any stage of their life with many risk factors such as eating disorders and excessive exercise, stress and a lack of vitamin D contributing. to bone loss.”

During early adulthood, our bones are generally kept strong and healthy through the continuous turnover of new bone cells and the shedding of old ones. But in midlife, this process becomes less efficient, with old cells breaking down faster than new ones can form. In women, frailty is accelerated by the decline in bone-protecting hormones such as estrogen around menopause.

Osteoporosis is often the result and the end point is a weakened skeleton with bones becoming so fragile that in many cases they are increasingly prone to fractures. However, O’Brien says osteoporosis and broken bones are not an inevitable part of aging and “are preventable in most people.”

How we exercise is crucial to maximizing bone health. In a new article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine Lead author Dr Katherine Brooke-Wavell – a researcher at Loughborough University’s National Center for Sport and Exercise Medicine – and a panel of experts reviewed the evidence to determine what kind of activities will preserve the better our bones. In the article titled “Strong, Steady and Straight,” Brooke-Wavell describes how strengthening our postural muscles by performing high-impact resistance and weight-bearing exercises is key to maintaining healthy bones.

“The more we move and the greater the variety of those movements, the better it is for our bones,” says Brooke-Wavell. “For anyone who hasn’t suffered a spinal fracture, then jumping and jerking, dancing, jogging and gardening are all good for the bones.”

Diet matters too, and O’Brien says the advice to consume calcium – 700mg a day is enough for most adults – still stands. It’s not hard to get the recommended amount when you consider that 50mg of calcium is provided in 1 tablespoon of plain yogurt, a 90g serving of broccoli, or 100g in a small tin of fava beans. bacon or salmon.

But what else can we do to strengthen our bones? Here are the new rules for a stronger skeleton:

Eat 10 prunes a day

They might not be the first thing that comes to mind as a bone-friendly food, but prunes – that is, dried plums – contain minerals, vitamin K, phenolic compounds and dietary fiber that combine to improve bone health, according to the researchers. Results of a recent study conducted at Penn State University and published in the journal Advances in nutrition, showed that women who ate 100g of prunes — about 10 prunes — every day for a year improved bone mineral density in the arms and lower spine. Women who ate five to 10 prunes daily for six months prevented a decline in bone mineral density and had reduced levels of markers of bone loss, including TRAP-5b, compared to women who did not eat prunes .

Take vitamin D

Vitamin D helps your body absorb and use calcium, which gives your bones their strength and hardness. It keeps muscles and bones strong and it is essential that we consume enough of it, because without vitamin D and calcium, the bones are weakened. “Vitamin D is something we should naturally get from the sun when it shines on our skin, but we don’t get a lot of sunshine in Ireland,” says O’Brien. “When the weather is nice, we recommend going outside for 15 minutes without sunscreen, then going inside and applying sunscreen to reduce your risk of skin cancer.”

She says vitamin D is found in small amounts in fatty fish and in eggs, but “it would be nearly impossible to get enough vitamin D from any food, let alone plant foods” and that a supplement is necessary for most people.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland recommends 15 mcg per day for those in generally good health and 20 mcg for those who are housebound with little or no exposure to sunlight.

Exercise is essential for maintaining strong bones

Jog three to four times a week

It’s not just bone density that improves with exercise, but the health of the bone marrow that produces the cells needed for bone formation. Researchers from Deakin University in Australia were the first to show how weight-bearing exercises prevent the spinal cord from turning into fatty tissue as you age. They found running to be the most effective activity for doing this.

Participants who ran 20 km per week, or three miles four days per week, saw benefits and committed long-distance runners who ran 50 km per week (or four miles per day) had the bone marrow equivalent to someone who was eight years younger than those who were sedentary. For every 9 km or 5.5 miles a person ran each week, their bone marrow was “younger” by a year. “The average person could gain ‘younger’ bone marrow by small amounts of running,” said lead author Daniel Belavy, associate professor at the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition.

Do this two-minute circuit, three times a week

Dr Gallin Montgomery, a former sports and exercise biomechanics researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University, tested a range of simple, high-impact movements – including countermovement jumps, stamps, box- drops and heel-drops – in healthy early postmenopausal women for a study in the Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology.

Wearing a device that measured the impact on their bones while jumping, the women performed either a jump every four seconds or a jump every 15 seconds. Both durations were found to produce improvements in bone health, with some exercises doing better than others.

“We found that countermovement jumps were the most beneficial because they had the highest muscle activation as well as the highest impact,” Montgomery says. “Box-drops and heel-drops were also beneficial, but buffer moves weren’t recommended because the impact wasn’t enough.”

It is recommended to perform 30 varied jumps three times a week and this would imply doing only one circuit of two minutes if you jump every four seconds. Here’s how to do the moves:

Jump in countermovement: Start standing up. Bend at the knees and hips, then immediately extend the knees and hips while simultaneously swinging the arms to jump vertically off the floor.

Box drops: Stand on the edge of a knee-high step (or a knee-high box if you have one) around knee-height and drop down landing on two feet, bending the knees when you land.

Heel drops: Stand as high on your toes as you can before dropping onto both of your heels to create impact. Keep your knees slightly bent throughout.

Lift weights two to three times a week (but don’t bother with resistance bands)

In the new guidance document, Brooke-Wavell says “progressive muscle resistance training” using progressively heavier weights over weeks and months should be done at least twice a week. “Most research suggests that heavy weights that you can lift for a maximum of eight to 12 reps are best to use, and that you should aim to build up to three sets of each exercise over time,” says- she. “Target all major muscle groups in the arms and legs as well as back muscles to promote spinal strength.”

Weighted lunges, weighted lunges, hip abduction and adduction, knee extension and flexion, back extension, reverse chest volley, and abdominal exercises should ideally be included weekly. It could be that lighter weights with more reps are just as effective, and that’s the subject of the current Brooke-Wavell study.

Perform 50 jumps per day if swimming or cycling primarily

Weightless activities, swimming, and cycling aren’t the best bone builders, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid them. “Because there is no impact they will not improve bone mineral density, but they do have other benefits such as strengthening the muscles around the spine which maintains good posture and prevents falls,” says Brooke-Wavell.

If you prefer to be on the bike or in the pool, add 50 daily jumps on each leg or 50 jumps with landing on both feet to your routine. In one of his studies published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral ResearchBrooke-Wavell found that postmenopausal women who performed up to 50 jumps on the same leg increased bone density in the jumping leg over the course of six months.

Eat plenty of kale, cabbage, and spinach

A high intake of leafy green vegetables is associated with strong, healthy bones in middle-aged and elderly people. This is partly because they provide calcium, but also because they are a rich source of vitamin K1, known for its benefits on bone metabolism. According to a 2020 study by researchers from Edith Cowan University and other Australian institutions, consuming 200g a day of leafy greens is enough to boost vitamin K status within a month, and it would pay dividends for your skeleton.

Strengthen your postural muscles

“If you have poor posture, undiagnosed osteoporosis should be ruled out first,” says O’Brien. “Broken bones in a person’s back can lead to changes in their posture, such as rounded shoulders, the person’s head protruding from their body, or the development of a dowager’s hump.” But by maintaining good posture, you can prevent the risk of falls and broken bones.

Brook-Wavell suggests starting with something as simple as sitting in a chair and, keeping your shoulders down, pulling and holding your chin toward your neck for a few seconds. “A next step is to lie on your stomach and lift your head and shoulders off the floor, hold for five seconds, then come back down, repeating several times a day,” she says. “Activities like Pilates and yoga can also help with spinal alignment and muscle strength development.”


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