How often do you find yourself thinking about bone health?
In all honesty, probably not very often.
Yet the truth is that bones need care and attention like any other parts of our bodies – especially so, since the way we care for them affects our chances of developing a condition called osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is where the bones become fragile and more vulnerable to fractures. It affects more than three million people in the UK, many of them over the age of 50.
But age isn’t the only risk factor when it comes to osteoporosis. Studies show that inactive people have a greater risk of developing the condition than people who exercise, for example.
Why? Because the way we treat our bones impacts their internal structure. It actually increases, or decreases, the quality and density of bones – which is especially true in the crucial teenage years of growth and development, but relevant to everyone as they get older, too.
So looking after the future health of your bones is important! Here are five ways to do just that…
One of the great myths about bones is that they are static. They aren’t. Your bones are constantly remodelling themselves in response to things that happen in and around the body. Research shows that when we apply weight-bearing ‘stress’ to our bones, they respond by stimulating bone-building osteoblasts. (Conversely when we don’t put them under stress, they lose strength – which is why astronauts can lose bone mass during their time in space). The key point: higher impact activities, when properly done, can promote strong bones – from running on the track to weight training.
It won’t surprise you to hear that food affects your bones. Bones actually contain several different components (blood vessels, marrow, hard cortical bone and spongy cancellous bone…), but the key building block behind them is calcium. Adults need around 700mg of calcium every day, and most of us can get that simply by eating a balanced diet. The NHS recommends things like green, leafy vegetables and fish. Click here for a comprehensive list.
Studies show that reduced exposure to sunlight increases the risk of bone problems. Why? Because sunlight enables our bodies to create vitamin D, and vitamin D allows our bodies to absorb calcium. Lose vitamin D and we run the risk of developing conditions like osteomalacia, where the bones become soft through poor mineralisation. That’s why it’s so important to get out into the fresh air – particularly if life, work or inactivity keeps you inside for large parts of the day.
Cut bad habits
Bad habits? Step forward cigarettes and alcohol… Heavy drinking stops the pancreas from absorbing calcium and vitamin D; it also appears to poison osteoblasts. Smoking, meanwhile, causes a panoply of health problems, including reduced blood supply to the bones. (The National Centre For Smoking Cessation and Training estimates that smokers have a 25% increase in fracture risk). The good news, though, is that many of these effects are thought to be reversible. Cut drink and smoke and your bones will thank you for it.
As we get older, we need to pay careful attention to our bones. A wrist, hip or spine fracture in someone over 50, for instance, is a potential red flag for osteoporosis. So these days there is a move towards early detection: if you’re 50+ and you come into the clinic with a fractured wrist, we may recommend a simple x-ray (with a DEXA scan) to look for osteoporosis. Early diagnosis helps avoid future problems, by focusing on diet and being on the look-out for fragility fractures.
Worried about fractures, or the general health of your bones? We are always happy to meet and discuss your concerns. Click here to book an appointment.