Top tips for healthy bones

Posted by Amanda on 11/02/14 in Nutritional Advice

Like it or not, our bones get thinner, weaker, and more brittle as we age. The process starts between the ages of 40 and 50, when our bones begin to lose minerals. This predisposes older men and women to fractures, even after a minor blow. After the age of 50, half of women and one-fifth of men will suffer a fracture – which is close to home after blogger Helen's recent accident. Here are VfL's top tips for preventing and speeding-up recovery from fractures.


Follow general healthy lifestyle guidance

Research suggests that physical exercise is the most critical factor for maintaining healthy bones. And older adults (65 and older) should do 150 minutes every week.

The best type of activity for bone health is weight-bearing exercise: walking, stair climbing and dancing.

Of next importance is improving your diet and lifestyle. This means eating plenty of fresh fruit and veg, cutting down on caffeine and avoiding alcohol and smoking. We'll cover caffeine in a later post, but for now, find out more about these lifestyle measures in Viva! Health's Boning up on Calcium factsheet.


Make sure you're getting enough vitamin D

Vitamin D is considered to be both a vitamin and a hormone. And older people need more because they're less able to produce it, absorb it, and activate it.

As well as being essential for health bones and muscles, it helps to protect us against heart disease and cancers.

Vitamin D isn't a true vitamin, because it is formed in the skin in the presence of sunlight.

You need to spend at least 15–20 minutes a day outside with exposed face and hands to give your skin chance to make enough vitamin D. If you have darker skin you'll need to spend longer in the sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D – but do follow advice on keeping your skin sun-safe.

You'll also find the vitamin in dietary sources such as egg yolk, fortified milk and soya milks, cereals and margarines.

Because vitamin D deficiency is so widespread, taking a daily vitamin D supplement (400 to 800 IU per day) can be an inexpensive and safe precaution.


Check your calcium intake

Calcium and vitamin D go hand in hand for healthy bones. Without vitamin D, your body may absorb less than 10% of the calcium in any food.

Calcium can have beneficial effects on high blood pressure and colorectal cancer, too.

Recommended daily targets are highest in the US, where postmenopausal women are advised to get 1,200 mg of calcium per day.

You could get this by, for example, including all of the following in your daily diet: a quarter of a pack of tofu, a glass of fortified soya or cow's milk, six dried figs, and two slices of granary bread spread with tahini. Or you can get it from a combination of diet and supplements. Click here for other good dietary sources.

If you're taking a supplement, avoid those with high levels of phosphorus and magnesium, which can decrease calcium absorption.


Sup a supplement

After the trauma/operation, people with fractures often have something called protein-energy malnutrition. As the name of the condition reflects, they get too little protein and energy, deficiencies that tend to go hand-in-hand.

Diets that contain enough energy (calories) typically contain plenty of protein. (For more information on protein, please see The Protein Myth.)

So the real problem is usually the quantity, rather than the quality, of food eaten during the post-operative period.

There is some evidence – albeit weak – that nutritional supplements may help.

Researchers have trialled increasing people's energy and protein intake after a fracture, mostly by giving them nutritional shakes complete with vitamins and minerals, such as Fortimel (given 2 x 200 ml daily for 7 days). Optimal hydration is important, too.

Patients who have been treated with these measures have had fewer postoperative complications such as infections, delirium, and bed sores.

There has also been interest in increasing patients' antioxidant levels. Antioxidants help the body respond to damage from the trauma – a 'battle' that lasts an entire year after the fracture. Antioxidants include vitamin E and the carotenoids and are naturally found in nuts, leafy green vegetables, fruits, corn tortillas, and even tortilla chips.

Researchers measured the blood antioxidant levels of 148 hip fracture patients 2, 6 and 12 months after the trauma. Patients with higher levels of antioxidants seemed to experience a faster and more complete recovery.


Those interested in further reading around this topic may like Building bones for life by Viva! Health, which contains a one-week meal plan. Viva! Health has also produced a 36-page scientific report with information on current therapies for osteoporosis.


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