How do I make my bones stronger?

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BSc in Health Studies, Dip.Nut
@EarleLogan2
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07 December 2018

Diet and its impact on bone health

Research suggests that nutrition has a huge impact on bone health so this is a great place to start if you are looking for ways to make your bones stronger. As I will explain later in this blog, however, exercise is also very important for our bone health so the two need to be done in combination. 

Researchers at the University of Michigan found that mineral supplements affected bone mass and strength more than exercise.1 What’s even more important about these findings however, is the fact that after exercise had stalled, bone strength remained just so long as supplements continued to be taken.

As we get older it becomes harder to exercise but also our bones can become more fragile too. Conditions such as osteoporosis can take hold for example, causing pain and making the bones more prone to breakages. In light of this, not only do our bones need more support as we age, it is easier to provide this support using our diet rather than through exercise. Therefore, this research is quite promising for the older generation.

This particular study used both phosphorus and calcium supplements to test the effects on bone health. This, as I’ve now discussed, had a positive effect however, now we must consider why this was the case. 

Why is calcium important for strong bones?

I’m sure that as children you were told to drink milk to help you “grow up big and strong”. No? Just me then…

Anyway, this comment makes perfect sense when you consider that calcium is important for helping children to develop strong bones. However, the nutrient is still crucial in adulthood as it keeps bones dense, healthy and reduces the risk of fractures. 

Calcium is continuously removed from our bones and then replaced by new sources. This means that if the body fails to get enough calcium to replace the stuff that’s taken out, then the bones can become weaker and more prone to breakages. As a result, it’s really important to eat a diet high in calcium if you wish to keep the bones strong.2 

Sources of calcium

The body is unable to produce calcium on its own and so it must be obtained through our diet. Fortunately there are a range of foods that contain calcium meaning it is quite unusual for people to need a calcium supplement. 

  • Dairy products: milk, cheese and yogurt contain the highest quantity of calcium
  • Green veggies: if you are veggie or vegan then broccoli, cabbage and okra also hold calcium 
  • Nuts and dried fruits: almonds, hazelnuts, brazil nuts and walnuts provide the most calcium here
  • Fish: sardines, pilchards, salmon are good sources
  • Soya products: including soya cream, soya milk, soya beans and soya mince 
  • Meat substitutes: tofu is another good source of calcium for vegans and vegetarians.

Here at A.Vogel we have hundreds of healthy recipes that you can try out at home including soups, stir fries and delicious cakes too. In this selection we also have a range of calcium-rich recipes so if you need a helping hand to up your intake then it may be helpful to take a look at these! Below I’ve included some popular ones:

Does vitamin D strengthen bones?

Vitamin D is also strongly associated with bone health as it is needed in order to absorb calcium from the food you eat. In this way it too helps to keep the bones strong and healthy, plus it reduces the chance of bone fractures and deformation too. 

Sources of vitamin D

Unlike other vitamins the body is able to produce its own vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sun light and the more skin that’s exposed, the more vitamin D that will be gained. This is easily obtained in the summer months when the weather is warm and we spend more time outside however, in winter vitamin D is less readily available. When we do venture outside for example, we tend to wrap ourselves in layers of hats, scarves and gloves so even though we’re outside we don’t get a huge amount of vitamin D.

Despite this though, most people will build up enough vitamin D in the summer months to see them through the colder season. 

In addition to sunlight, vitamin D can also be gained through diet, though the key here is in addition because diet alone is not enough to provide you with the necessary amount. Some foods that contain vitamin D include:

  • Fish: mackerel, salmon
  • Dairy and dairy substitutes: milk, almond milk
  • Vegetables: shiitake mushrooms
  • Meat substitutes: tofu

Vitamin D deficiencies aren’t hugely common nowadays but if your mobility is poor and you can’t get outdoors a lot then a doctor may provide a vitamin D supplement. Common symptoms of vitamin D deficiencies include low mood, aching joints and problems with digestion. 

How does exercise strengthen bones?

Just as your muscles gain strength from activities such as weight lifting, your bones become stronger the more you exercise. Physical activity causes new bone tissue to form and this makes them stronger.3   

What exercises make your bones stronger?

When trying to improve bone strength it is best to focus on weight bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises such as:

  • Brisk walking – Nordic walking is a great option here as, with the aid of poles, it works the upper body muscles as well as the legs4  
  • Climbing stairs – this is an easy one, simply use the stairs instead of escalators and lifts
  • Train with resistance bands – read our blog ‘4 easy exercises you can do with resistance bands’ to find out more about this. Here you’ll find a series of tips as well as a range of easy-to-follow videos
  • Aerobic exercises - this includes swimming, a spinning class, walking, hiking, aerobics classes and much more 
  • Running – to find out more about how to start running or, indeed, for advice on how to improve everything from your running technique to your nutrition, I’d recommend you have a look at our running hub
  • Moderate weight lifting – for those who are willing to go to the gym this is another option.5 

Is drinking coffee bad for your bones?

It may be surprising but caffeine can negatively affect bone health as it reduces the body’s ability to absorb calcium. This mineral, as we now know, is essential for maintaining strong bones and so it can benefit them (as well as lots of other areas of your health) to limit tea and coffee intake. 

As well as this though, drinking lots of caffeinated drinks means we are less likely to consume calcium-rich drinks such as milk and so this is another way in which coffee can be bad for our bones. 

Here at A.Vogel we have come up with a solution for those of you that love coffee but still need to cut down your intake in the form of our Bambu Coffee Substitute.

This is made from 100% natural and organically grown ingredients including chicory, Turkish figs, malted barley, wheat and Greek acorns to give it a deliciously rich and fulfilling flavour. So, simply swap your usual hot drink for this one and see if you feel a difference. 

Are fizzy drinks bad for your bones?

Fizzy drinks often contain phosphoric acid which can inhibit children’s development of strong, healthy bones. That’s because high levels of phosphate in the blood reduce vitamin D levels which is required to absorb calcium. As a result of this calcium is absorbed from the bones without being replaced which can cause them to become weak. 

On top of this many fizzy drinks, especially energy drinks, contain caffeine which, as I’ve just discussed, also prevents the absorption of calcium.7 This would suggest that cutting down your intake of fizzy juice could improve bone health.

Can smoking weaken your bones?

Finally, as well as effecting your overall fitness and wellbeing, smoking can negatively affect the strength of your bones. That’s because smoking affects how effectively the bone building cells in your body work thus reducing their overall density. This can increase the risk of osteoporosis and as a result it can make you more prone to breakages and pain. 

The NHS website provides advice on how to stop smoking if you require further information on this. 

To sum up...

References

1 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181017080802.htm 

https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/bonehealth/conditioninfo/calcium 

3 https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/bonehealth/conditioninfo/activity 

4 https://nordicwalking.co.uk/?page=about_nordic_walking&c=2  

5 https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercises-for-strong-bones/  

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12204390  

7 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/1507478.stm  

https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/preventing-falls/keeping-well/looking-after-your-bones 

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