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A guide to supporting your bone health

heeral-patel-bio

Reviewed byHeeral Patel

Lady in living room in yoga stretch

Summary

1When should I start thinking about my bone health

Although we associate it with older people, the building blocks of our bone health begin in childhood and are important all our lives...

2What impacts bone strength?

Everyone's bone density naturally decreases with age. Menopause seriously impacts it, genetics and health conditions may also affect it...

3Bone health, diet, and nutrition

Calcium, there's almost a kilogram of calcium in your bones. Calcium is needed for the maintenance of normal bones...

What does a healthy body mean to you? Maybe it’s strong muscles or a happy heart – but perhaps your bones didn’t make the list. In the UK, more than one in three women and one in five men over 50 will have an osteoporotic fracture in their lives.1

Factors like ageing and menopause mean our bones can take a lot over our lifetimes. So, what can you do? 

Whatever your age or activity level, taking care of your bones helps them take care of you...

What is bone health?

Healthy bones are strong and withstand our everyday lifestyles. They work with our muscles to let us move freely. They’re dense and can support heavy things.

Bone density is the concentration of minerals, like calcium and phosphorus, present in bones.2 Weak bones may be a sign of osteoporosis. This could mean you:3 
  • are more prone to fractures, even from small falls and bumps 
  • are less mobile than before
  • find it more difficult to do your usual tasks

When should I start thinking about my bone health?

Why not today? Although we associate it with older people, the building blocks of our bone health begin in childhood and are important all our lives.

Bone health usually peaks in early adulthood.4 But people of any age can develop conditions like osteoporosis.

What impacts bone strength?

Everyone's bone density naturally decreases with age. Menopause seriously impacts it: some people can lose up to 20% of their bone mass during this time.5

Genetics and health conditions may also affect your bone health.6

So, we can't control some factors. But it’s never too early or too late to work on the ones that we can...

Diet and nutrition for bone health

We’ve all heard the old saying that milk helps your bones grow strong. But there’s more to it than that. The vitamins and minerals in our diet can have a huge impact on our bone health. Here are some of the most important nutrients to get for healthy bones...

1. Calcium

There's almost a kilogram of calcium in your bones.7 Calcium is needed for the maintenance of normal bones and normal growth and development of bone in children.8,9

Don’t worry – it's not all about milk. Calcium rich foods for bones include: 
  • green leafy veg, like curly kale and okra10 
  • cheese and other dairy products10
  • many fortified dairy alternatives11
  • bread: all flour in the UK is fortified with calcium11
  • calcium-set tofu12
  • almonds12
  • chia seeds12
  • fish with edible bones10
Adults need 700mg of calcium per day.10

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium.13 We mainly get our vitamin D through sunlight. Food can help a little: you’ll find vitamin D in oily fish, egg yolks, and some fortified foods like breakfast cereals.11

However, the NHS recommends that, in the UK:13
  • everyone aged five and over should take a 10μg vitamin D supplement during autumn and winter 
  • children aged one to four years should take a 10μg vitamin D supplement every day of the year 
  • babies under one year old who are i) breastfed or ii) drink less than 500ml of infant formula per day should take an 8.5μg vitamin D supplement every day of the year 
  • people at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency (people who are often indoors, who have dark skin or who cover a lot of their skin with clothing) should take a 10μg vitamin D supplement every day of the year

3. Zinc

Zinc supports the maintenance of normal bones and is found in meat, shellfish, dairy products, bread, quinoa, tofu and lentils.14,15,16

However, it’s worth noting that too much zinc can affect our copper absorption. This can lead to anaemia and weaker bones, so balance is key.15

Bone health and exercise

Your bones need a workout, just like muscles. Weight-bearing exercises (where you support your own body weight) help strengthen bones.

High impact examples include running and jumping. Low impact examples include walking and yoga.17

Children’s bones are still growing, so starting exercise early in life gives them the best chance of developing healthy bones, as well as more chance of maintaining an active lifestyle.

Staying fit also helps your balance, meaning you’re less likely to fall and break a bone.

Adults should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per day, five days a week.18,19 Children should aim for an hour of activity every day of the week.20

You can still exercise with osteoporosis but speak to your GP to see what kind of activity is best.

Bone health and lifestyle

Everyday activity

Being active doesn’t always have to involve vigorous exercise. Consider whether your day includes things like: 
  • doing housework 
  • playing with children 
  • taking regular work breaks to stretch and walk around 
  • walking to the shops 
  • gardening

How drinking and smoking affect bone health

Alcohol prevents the body from absorbing calcium, so it can contribute to weaker bones. And there’s a direct relationship between smoking and decreased bone density.17

Smoking may even cause earlier menopause in women, meaning that you lose bone density and increase your risk of fractures at an earlier age.17

Bone health and weight

Your weight doesn’t necessarily indicate your health. But being overweight or underweight increases the risk of weaker bones.21

Similarly, your weight might not completely be down to your diet or everyday lifestyle. But consider making changes to your nutrition, activity levels or speaking to your GP for advice if you’re over or underweight and you’re worried about your bone health.

The final say

Having healthy bones isn’t just about being strong. It’s about staying as mobile and active as you can, for as long as possible. With a few small steps, you can help make healthy changes for life.

Disclaimer

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Before taking any supplements or minerals, it’s best to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients through your diet first. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
 

Sources

1. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Osteoporosis – prevention of fragility fractures: How common is it? [Internet]. NICE [reviewed 2023 Apr; cited 2024 Jul 12]. Available from: https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/osteoporosis-prevention-of-fragility-fractures/background-information/prevalence/ 
2. National Cancer Institute. Bone Density [Internet]. National Cancer Institute. Available from: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/bone-density
3. NHS. Osteoporosis – Overview [Internet]. NHS; [reviewed 2022 Oct 13]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/osteoporosis/
4. Solent NHS Trust. Healthy Bones: Caring for your bones [Internet]. NHS. Available from: https://www.solent.nhs.uk/media/1669/healthy-bones-fact-sheet.pdf
5. Ji MX, Yu Q. Primary Osteoporosis in Postmenopausal Women. Chronic Dis Transl Med [Internet]. 2015 Mar [cited 2024 Feb 22]; 1(1): 9-13. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5643776/
6. British Nutrition Foundation. Osteoporosis [Internet]. British Nutrition Foundation. Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/health-conditions/bone-and-joint-health/osteoporosis/
7. Royal Osteoporosis Society (ROS). Calcium-rich food chooser [Internet]. ROS. Available from: https://theros.org.uk/information-and-support/bone-health/nutrition-for-bones/calcium/calcium-rich-food-chooser/
8. European Commission. Characteristics [Internet]. European Commission. Available from: https://ec.europa.eu/food/food-feed-portal/screen/health-claims/eu-register/details/POL-HC-6346
9. European Commission. Characteristics [Internet]. European Commission. Available from: https://ec.europa.eu/food/food-feed-portal/screen/health-claims/eu-register/details/POL-HC-6269
10. NHS. Calcium – Vitamins & minerals [Internet]. NHS; [reviewed 2020 Aug 3]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/calcium/
11. NHS. Food for healthy bones [Internet]. NHS; [reviewed 2021 Apr 8]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/bone-health/food-for-strong-bones/
12. The Vegan Society. Calcium [Internet]. The Vegan Society; 2017. Available from: https://www.vegansociety.com/sites/default/files/uploads/downloads/Calcium%20PDF_0.pdf
13. NHS. Vitamin D – Vitamins & minerals [Internet]. NHS; [reviewed 2020 Aug 3]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/
14. European Commission. Characteristics [Internet]. European Commission. Available from: https://ec.europa.eu/food/food-feed-portal/screen/health-claims/eu-register/details/POL-HC-6539
15. NHS. Others – Vitamins and minerals [Internet]. NHS; [reviewed 2020 Aug 3]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/others/
16. The Vegan Society. Zinc [Internet]. The Vegan Society; 2023. Available from: https://www.vegansociety.com/sites/default/files/uploads/downloads/Zinc_download.pdf
17. NHS Inform. Bone health and falls [Internet]. NHS; [reviewed 2023 Mar 14]. Available from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/preventing-falls/keeping-well/bone-health-and-falls/
18. NHS. Physical activity guidelines for adults aged 19 to 64 [Internet]. NHS; [reviewed 2021 Aug 4]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/physical-activity-guidelines-for-adults-aged-19-to-64/
19. NHS. Physical activity guidelines for older adults [Internet]. NHS; [reviewed 2021 Sep 24]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/physical-activity-guidelines-older-adults/
20. NHS. Physical activity guidelines for children and young people [Internet]. NHS; [reviewed 2021 Nov 12]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/physical-activity-guidelines-children-and-young-people/
21. Royal Osteoporosis Society. Bone health checklist [Internet]. Royal Osteoporosis Society. Available from: https://theros.org.uk/information-and-support/bone-health/bone-health-checklist/
 

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