Most of us don’t give a lot of thought to our bones. They’re a part of our body, they’re there, and they just work. It’s only when they break that we start to think about them and appreciate how important they are.
Having healthy bones is very important to staying fit and healthy in old age.
During our childhood, adolescence, and the early part of adulthood, our bones are still growing in density, and minerals are being incorporated into them.
By the time we turn 30, most of us will have achieved peak bone mass. If, during this critical period of mass building, we don’t generate enough bone mass, then there is the risk that later in life we could develop fragile bones – a condition called osteoporosis. It is also possible to develop this condition if, for any reason, bone loss occurs during middle age or later in life.
The good news is that there are some natural, healthy ways to build strong bones. Here are eight ways to improve your bone density, naturally.
1. Eat More Vegetables
Vegetables are rich in Vitamin C, which helps to stimulate the production of the cells that are responsible for forming bone.
In addition t this, Vitamin C can help to protect the bone cells from damage, because it is a powerful antioxidant.
Eating lots of green and yellow vegetabls during childhood can help to improve your bone mineralization.
Older women, also benefit from eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
One study focused on women over 50, and found that those who regularly consumed onions had a 20 percent lower risk of osteoporosis, compared to those who did not eat onions often.
2. Lift Weights
Load-bearing exercises can be useful for helping to improve bone density. Weight lifting, and exercises that involve lots of impact, can help to encourage the formation of new bone.
For this reason, lifting weights is an activity that is recommended for older adults, since it can help to prevent age-related bone loss.
Studies of the bone density of older men and women found that those who performed weight-bearing exercises benefited from having increased bone mineral density and bone size, as well as increased bone strength, and reduced markers of inflammation and bone turnover.
Children should be engaging in regular exercise as well, however any weight training that they do should be closely supervised, and should not include weights that are close to their one rep maximum.
The focus should be on form, movement and fun.
Lifting heavy weights in childhood can be dangerous, because a child’s bones are not fully formed, and their connective tissue may not be strong enough to handle the load either.
3. Eat Lots of Protein
Not a lot of people realise that bones require protein just like muscle does. A lot of protein intake can decrease calcium absorption in the body, and lead to slower rates of bone formation, and more rapid bone breakdown.
There is some concern that if people eat too much protein, then this can have the opposite effect, and cause calcium to be leached from the bones.
The key is to eat enough. For most people who are of a healthy weight, eating around 100g of protein per day, alongside plant foods and dairy products, can be beneficial.
Older women in particular should make a point of eating enough protein, because it can reduce their risk of fractures.
4. Eat Calcium-Rich Foods
Calcium is an important mineral for improving your bone health.
Old bone cells are steadily being broken down and replaced, and your body needs to have enough calcium to replenish that broken down bone. Most people need around 1,000mg of calcium per day, however teenagers need 1,300mg, and women who are post-menopausal need 1,200mg.
You should aim to spread out your calcium-containing food throughout the day, because if you consume more than 500mg of calcium in one go your body will not be able to absorb it all.
5: Make Sure to Get Enough Vitamin K and Vitamin D
Vitamin D and Vitamin K both have a role to play in promoting bone health. Vitamin D helps your body to properly absorb calcium, and as such it is recommended that people aim for a blood level of 75nmol/l, in order to ward off osteoporosis and osteopenia.
People who have low vitamin D tend to have lower bone density.
Your body can make vitamin D if you get enough exposure to sunlight, but people who live in areas where there is not a lot of sun, people who work shifts, and people who rarely go out during the day are likely to be deficient in this nutrient.
It is possible to get it through your diet if you eat lots of fatty fish, cheese, and liver.
If you are vegetarian or vegan, then you may need to supplement Vitamin D.
Vitamin K2 is another important bone nutrient, and one that is found in liver, meat and eggs, as well as sauerkraut, cheese, and some soybean products.
6: Watch Your BMI
The BMI chart is a chart that gives an overall idea of a person’s weight compared to the healthy range for their height.
BMI is an approximation, and it does not take into account whether a person’s weight comes from muscle or fat, but it is a very good indicator for the vast majority of the population, indeed it is more likely to estimate that someone is of a normal weight when they are carrying more fat than is healthy, rather than call someone overweight or obese who happens to have a bodybuilder physique.
Why does BMI matter?
Well, as someone heads into the obese category, they put a lot of stress on their joints and bones, and this can actually cause long-lasting damage to the bones in your legs.
Why put your bones under any more stress than they need to be, by carrying extra weight that serves no real useful purpose to your body?
In contrast, people who are underweight often lose significant bone mass.
Following a very low calorie diet (less than 1000 calories per day) can cause loss of bone density, and being underweight can impact the production of hormones that govern various processes in the body, including bone density.
It is best to aim to eat a balanced diet, with a minimum of 1,200 calories per day (more for men) and to aim to have a BMI in the healthy range (20-24 for most ethnicities).
7. Don’t Shy Away From Healthy Fats
There is a common misconception that eating fats makes people fat. This could not be further from the truth. Eating foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids will help to promote good bone health and to also improve your overall health and energy levels.
Healthy fats such as Omega 3 fatty acids are vital for hormone production, and also because some vitamins are fat-soluble, and if your diet does not include fats then you may end up being deficient in those vitamins.
Omega-3 fatty acids, when taken in the right quantities, can help to improve bone density and support the turnover of healthy bone.
8. Reduce Your Stress
Some stress is natural, but chronic stress can easily take its toll on you. When you are stressed, your body produces extra cortisol, which is a hormone that is detrimental to the health of your bones and other organs, if it is allowed to remain at an elevated level for a long time.
You can beat stress by taking some time to relax and unwind each day, even if that’s just shutting off your phone and reading a book for half an hour before you go to bed, or practicing meditation and yoga each morning.
If you are struggling with stress, don’t be embarrassed about seeking help. In the long run your body will be much better off if you are able to beat stress.
It’s never too late to improve your bone health. If you are an older adult, then starting a program of moderate intensity exercise (with your doctor’s approval), and eating a healthy diet could still do you a lot of good.
If you are a woman who has gone through the menopause or who is going through it now, then you should definitely start thinking about your bone health. Even pensioners with low bone mineral density often benefit from taking measures to protect the bone that they have.
We only get one skeleton, and while our body is good at repairing itself, and bones will knit together if they are damaged, the loss of mobility that we experience while the bones are healing is no fun and can be the start of some serious cognitive decline in older people.
It makes sense to do everything we can to avoid that, and to try to develop bones that are as strong as possible, that we can depend on for sport, play, and day to day life.