It’s important to understand how your bones grow and when they start to lose density. Learn more about how regular exercise, calcium, vitamin D and bone health checks can help maintain healthy bones.
Bones are living tissues. They are constantly broken down and replaced with new bone tissue. During childhood and adolescence, your bone tissue grows faster than it breaks down. Your bones reach their maximum size and strength (peak bone mass) in your early 20s.
Once you reach peak bone mass, you will gradually lose bone density over time.
Research shows the higher your peak bone mass, the better protected you are against bone loss, fractures (broken bones) and osteoporosis later in life.
There are many things you can do to maintain bone health.
Staying active is important for our overall health, but some activities help reduce the rate of bone loss and maintain bone health. Three types of exercise are recommended for bone health.
Weight-bearing exercise can play a role in slowing bone loss. This type of exercise involves bearing your own weight and supporting your skeleton. Examples include walking, stair walking, jogging and dancing. Research shows that fast walking for at least 30 minutes a day, three or more times a week, can help prevent bone loss in premenopausal women.
Higher impact activities are also important to help strengthen bones, for example, running, skipping, jumping, high-impact aerobics and team sports such as netball.
It’s recommended you do this kind of activity four to seven times a week.
These activities are not suitable for everyone and may increase the risk of fracture if you have low bone density.
Strength training is also called ‘resistance training’. This involves moving your body against some type of resistance, such as dumbbells, resistance bands, other gym equipment or your own body weight (e.g. push-ups or squats).
The goal is to strengthen muscles around bones that are more at risk of fracture, such as your hips, wrists and spine.
You can use strength training to focus on building bone density in certain parts of your body. For example, you can do squats to increase bone density in your legs.
It’s recommended you do strength training two to three times a week. Strength training is most beneficial when you choose a challenging weight and aim for eight to 12 repetitions. As your strength improves, it’s best to increase the weight rather than the number of repetitions.
To avoid injury, work with a trained instructor – especially if you have never lifted weights before.
A combination of weight-bearing exercise and strength training is an effective way to maintain good bone health.
A major cause of bone fracture in older women is falls. That’s why it’s important to improve your balance and mobility.
Balance training exercises can be done while you’re standing still or moving. For example, standing on one leg, side stepping, walking backwards or doing Tai Chi.
It’s recommended you spend two hours a week doing balance exercises.
Learn more about exercise and bone health. Visit the Healthy Bones Australia website.
You can also download Healthy Bones Australia’s Exercise and Bone Density guide (PDF 1MB) to see photos of the exercises.
Calcium and vitamin D are important for bone health.
Calcium helps strengthen your bones. It’s also needed for a healthy heart, muscles, blood and nerves. About 99% of your body’s calcium is found in your bones.
Your body can’t make calcium, so you need to get it from your food. You may need to take calcium supplements if you don’t get enough calcium in your diet. Ask your doctor about the risks and benefits of calcium supplements.
If there’s not enough calcium in your diet, your body will take what it needs from your bones. This can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Calcium needs vary according to age:
Learn more about calcium and bone health. Visit the Healthy Bones Australia website.
You can also read this handy Healthy Bones Australia Calcium Content of Common Foods fact sheet (PDF 500KB) to get the right amount of calcium in your diet.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb and retain calcium, which is important for strong bones and muscles.
Your body produces vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. But be careful about how much time you spend in the sun. Sun protection is recommended when ultraviolet light (UV) levels reach 3 and above.
Check the Healthy Bones Australia Sunshine Map (PDF 161KB) to learn about recommended sun exposure for vitamin D in different parts of Australia.
Vitamin D3 can also be found in certain foods, such as fatty fish and eggs.
It’s hard to get the right amount of vitamin D from diet alone, so if your vitamin D levels are low, talk to your doctor about taking supplements.
There are different tests to check your bone health.
Bone health checks may involve an assessment of risk factors for osteoporosis, a bone density scan (DXA scan) and blood and urine tests.
Hormones such as oestrogen play a role in maintaining bone strength. During perimenopause and after menopause there is a significant drop in oestrogen. On average, women lose up to 10% of their bone mass in the first five years after menopause.
Women who experience premature or early menopause can start losing their bone density at an earlier age than those who go through menopause in their 50s.
This puts them at greater risk of developing osteoporosis earlier in life.
The best way to take care of your bones after menopause is to:
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