Healthy Living



Keeping bones healthy is more important than ever

Your bones may not be growing as much as when you were younger, but keeping them healthy is more important than ever. From our 40s onwards, our bones gradually lose their density as a natural part of ageing. Getting enough calcium, vitamin D and other bone-building nutrients in your diet will help your bones stay strong and protect against osteoporosis as you get older.

In older adults, calcium is absorbed less effectively from the intestine and more can be lost through the kidneys, so calcium intake needs to be maintained at a higher level. Not all the calcium we consume is used by the body -some is not absorbed by the digestive system. It is normal for a small amount of calcium to be lost in this way, and this is taken into consideration when setting the recommended level of calcium intake (1,000 mg per day for adults generally).

However, there are some factors that can lead to an abnormally low absorption of calcium:

  •  Low vitamin D levels. According to recent surveys, a substantial number of people have inadequate blood levels of vitamin D that does not meet the RDA (recommended daily allowance).
  •  Excessive caffeine and alcohol consumption
  •  Diets high in phytates or oxalates. Phytates (found in some cereals and brans) may reduce the calcium absorbed from other foods that are eaten at the same time. Oxalates (contained in spinach, beet greens and other plant foods) reduce the calcium absorbed from the food in which they are present
  •  Certain medicines, for example long term corticosteroid use
  •  Certain medical conditions for example coeliac disease, kidney disease
People of advancing age often do not consume enough calcium through their diet, or are unable to absorb calcium properly. It is normal for a small amount of calcium to be lost in this way, and this is taken into consideration when setting the recommended level of calcium intake (1,000 mg per day for adults generally). However, there are some factors that can lead to an abnormally low absorption of calcium and that you should consider when trying to determine your calcium intake and your bone health:

  •  Factors that have an impact on your diet, such as poor appetite, illness, or social or economic problems. Any of these may make it hard for you to eat well
  •  Poor absorption of calcium in the intestine (made worse if your vitamin D levels are low)
  •  Less frequent exposure to sunlight, which is needed to make vitamin D (this is particularly the case if you are house-bound or have limited mobility
  •  Poor kidney function, leading to increased loss of calcium.

Easy ways to keep your bones strong

Adults are considered to have reached their greatest bone mass around the age of 30, but studies have shown that there is still room for improvement at 30 and above.

Eat calcium-rich foods

Adults should eat at least 1000mg of calcium a day, and 1300mg if diagnosed with osteoporosis. You could get your daily intake by eating a yogurt, a cheese sandwich, a handful of almonds and a spinach salad

Get your sunshine quota

Your body needs vitamin D to help it absorb calcium. Although small amounts of vitamin D are found naturally in some foods, such as fatty fish, liver and eggs, as well as in some fortified dairy products, most adults are unlikely to obtain more than 5%-10% of their vitamin D requirement from dietary sources. Your body makes its own vitamin D when you're exposed to sunshine. Many people in the Greece may get enough vitamin D by spending 15 minutes in the sun two to three times a week. Generally, normal levels built up in the summer will be enough to last through the winter.

Go easy on the protein

Health professionals recommend that adults should avoid a protein intake of twice the Reference Nutrient Intake (i.e. 1.5g per kg of body weight per day equivalent, for example, to 90g for a 60kg woman). Excessive amounts of protein create body acid, which drains the body of calcium and weakens bones. Keep your diet balanced. Your meals should contain protein (meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds), fresh fruit and vegetables, and carbohydrates (bread, pasta, potatoes and rice).

Quit smoking

The more you smoke, the more likely you'll get osteoporosis. Get help quitting smoking for good.

Drink sensibly

Alcohol, tea, coffee, cola and other fizzy drinks reduce the amount of calcium you absorb and weaken bones. Stick to the recommended amounts of alcohol, and swap your caffeine-fuelled drinks for water and diluted juice.

Cut out the salt

Salt is thought to speed up the body's loss of calcium. Most of us consume 9g of salt a day, but the recommended limit is 6g, which is just a teaspoonful. Don't add salt to your food and look at food labels to help you cut down. Avoid foods that contain 1.5g of salt per 100g (or 0.6g of sodium) or more. Crisps, ham, cheese, cooking sauces and processed foods such as pies, pizza and soups are all high in salt.

Be active

Bones get stronger when you use them. The best way to strengthen them is to do at least five hours of weight-bearing exercise a week. Adults should be doing 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least five days a week (or 150 minutes or more in total). They should also undertake physical activity to improve muscle strength on at least two days a week. Weight training is ideal, but carrying shopping, gardening and housework all count.Older adults (over the age of 65) who are at risk of falls should also incorporate specific exercises to improve balance and co-ordination on at least two days a week and reduce the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods.

Maintain a healthy weight

Losing too much weight too fast under a crash diet can increase your risk of osteoporosis. The same is true if you're anorexic, or for women, if you're so thin that your periods have stopped. Weight loss can cut the amount of estrogen (a hormone that helps to protect your bones) in your body. If you need to lose weight, do it sensibly.