Life

Tips on taking care of your bones as you get older

Vulnerable to knocks and wear and tear, bones and joints can use all the help they can get. Abi Jackson rounds up some simple ways to keep them strong

There is a lot we can do to help our skeletons and supporting soft tissues to stay in good shape
Abi Jackson

AS we age, bones tend to lose density, and conditions like osteoporosis, as well as osteoarthritis (causing stiff and painful joints), become more common.

While it isn't always possible to prevent these things entirely, there is a lot we can do to help our skeletons and supporting soft tissues to stay in good shape.

Bones and joints play a huge role in our health and general wellbeing; they're key to keeping active and mobile, and yet can be highly susceptible to injury and pain, so keeping them healthy is vital.

It's well known that diet's important: calcium and vitamin D, for example, are essential for building strong bones, while omega-3-rich foods, like oily fish, are believed to help protect joints.

Supporting our skeletons goes beyond what we eat and drink, however. Here are some simple ways to keep those bones and joints in good nick...

KEEP MUSCLES STRONG

Over the years, wear and tear can weaken joints and ligaments. While there are often things we can do to address specific problems – such as joint replacement surgeries and physiotherapy – one of the best things we can do is prevent problems from arising or worsening by keeping the muscles that support and surround our joints strong.

This takes the pressure off the more vulnerable bones and soft tissues of the joint, helping them stay healthy and pain-free. Swimming is an excellent exercise which works all major muscle groups without putting pressure on joints. Cycling is another good choice.

DO SOME WEIGHT-BEARING EXERCISE

As excellent as swimming is, in an ideal world, it's wise to combine it with some weight-bearing exercise too, such as walking, dancing, or even doing steps up and down the bottom stair at home. Weight-bearing movement actively helps to build up bone strength.

Of course, overdoing it isn't going to help either, so build up slowly and speak to your physiotherapist or doctor for advice if you already have problems.

STRETCH IT OUT

If stiff and painful bones and joints are an issue, often the last thing you feel like doing is attempting to stretch. However, there is evidence that keeping supple, and practising yoga and Pilates-based exercises, can help reduce pain and improve joint health.

Again, always check with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimes if you have a history of health problems, and go gently and listen to your body – but making some simple stretches part of your regular routine could significantly ease problems in the long run.

MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT

Being underweight is sometimes linked to a higher risk of fractures and osteoporosis, while being overweight or obese can put extra pressure on joints, contributing to pain and stiffness. So, keeping to a healthy weight range can go a long way towards reducing problems like these.

STOP SMOKING

Everybody knows that smoking is linked to an increased risk of cancer, heart and lung diseases, but did you know that numerous studies have also linked cigarettes with higher rates of osteoporosis and bone fractures? There's lots of support out there for anybody hoping to stub out cigarettes for good.

KEEP ALCOHOL INTAKE MODERATE

Similarly, heavy alcohol intake – particularly long-term heavy drinking – has also been associated with poor bone health in later life. There's nothing wrong with indulging in a tipple or two, if you enjoy it, but keeping alcohol intake to a moderate level is certainly sensible.

BE MINDFUL OF MENOPAUSE

Hormonal changes during and after menopause can affect women's health in a number of ways, including bone health. In fact, bone density can reduce by up to 20 per cent in the five to seven years after menopause. The important thing is to remember that menopause isn't something that should be ignored or that women should just 'put up' with.

Discuss concerns, symptoms and treatment options with your GP, who can also advise on lifestyle changes that might help. Sites like www.menopausematters.co.uk can also be helpful.

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