How to keep your bones strong

Osteoporosis is not just a disease that affects people over 60, in rare cases children between the ages of 8 and 14 can develop juvenile osteoporosis due to poor diet and lack of exercise, says Dr Brian Grills from La Trobe University.

SpineA senior lecturer and a leading researcher in bone pathophysiology, he says there are other associated factors that can cause osteoporosis but researchers are still trying to determine the specific gene or genes that cause this bone disease in both young and old. 

‘The leading cause of osteoporosis is genetics, so if you have a history of osteoporosis in your family make sure to consult your doctor.’ Brian says.

It is estimated that nearly 2 million Australians currently have osteoporotic-associated conditions such as fractures of the spine, hip and wrist.  There is general concern that this ‘silent disease’ is likely to increase and by 2021 the health related costs of treating fractures will be $7.4 billion each year.

2007 statistics show the great burden on the quality of life of Australians over 60 with approximately 25 per cent suffering a hip fracture dying a year later.  For those who do not die from complications associated with a fracture, 50 per cent require long-term help with walking and the remaining 25 per cent require full time care.

‘Many think osteoporosis is something to worry about when they are much older, but people should start maintaining the health of their bones from childhood,’ he says.

Brian is from the School of Human Biosciences at La Trobe and also heads the Bone Group at the Musculoskeletal Research Centre in the Faculty of Health Sciences where his research specialises in bone pathophysiology and particularly fracture repair. He has been a member of the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society (ANZBMS) for nearly twenty years and says there are some things that people aren’t aware of when it comes to osteoporosis.

Based on the recommendations of the ANZBMS here are Brian’s three tips for maintaining healthy bones.

1.    Strengthen your lower and upper body

Weight-bearing exercise is anything done on your feet, such as jogging, walking, tennis, dancing, golf and netball.

‘Skipping is also a good way to strengthen your bones, however only for the lower part of your body, it’s also important to strengthen the upper part of your body by doing resistance exercise,’ Brian says.

Also known as strength training, lifting weights with your arms and legs strengthen your bones and have also shown to reduce the number of falls in older people by improving their balance.  

‘For this to be effective you have to lift weights on a regular basis, it has to be fairly vigorous and the size of the weights should be varied,’ Brian says.

2.    Adequate calcium intake

Calcium is one of the essential nutrients necessary for healthy bone development.  

‘According to the ANZBMS early puberty is an ideal time to ensure adequate calcium intake to maximise bone health in the growing skeleton,’ Brian says.

People can incorporate their calcium intake through dairy rich foods or calcium supplements.  To learn more about the recommended calcium daily intake for people of all ages go to:

www.bonehealthforlife.org.au

3.    Exposure to sunlight

There’s a good reason why your parents always tell you to go get some fresh air.  The sun is a great source of vitamin D which is vitally important for healthy bones.  

Australians get their main source of vitamin D through limited exposure to sunlight.  The ANZBMS recommend exposing the whole body for 10-15 minutes to midday sun in summer.

‘During winter in Australia, certain individuals may not get enough sun exposure, so one can take vitamin D supplements or incorporate certain foods in their diet such as fish, liver, eggs, margarine and some low-fat milks, which contain small quantities of vitamin D,’ Brian says.

For more information on how to prevent or treat osteoporosis visit:


The Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society (ANZBMS): www.anzbms.org.au/


Osteoporosis Australia: www.osteoporosis.org.au


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