What is it about turning 40 and suddenly all these “old person” health worries kick in? Or worse, actual symptoms. I know that my body is definitely a lot less forgiving these days. I can’t cope with a hangover, however mild. Aches and pains seem to take much longer to get better. I’ve had a niggle in my knee for months now and my toes make a weird but slightly satisfying crack when I move them a certain way.
Bone health is one of those issues that most of us associate with older people. Hip replacements and dodgy knees, that kind of thing. In fact, it’s something that all women over 35 should be proactive about. Most women gradually lose bone density from around age 35, which seems scarily young, especially since many women nowadays are having babies in their late 30s and early 40s.
You probably know that bone loss speeds up after the menopause – women can lose up to 20% of their bone density in the five to seven years after the menopause. This rapid dip in bone density is caused by falling levels of oestrogen – oestrogen has a vital role in protecting bone strength. This makes post-menopausal women more at risk of osteoporosis (weak bones) and fractures. These sorts of concerns can be a factor in deciding whether to take hormone therapies once the menopause has “officially” started. However, given the average age of a natural menopause is 51 years, there is potentially a period of 16 years of gradual bone density loss that no drug can reverse.
If this all sounds a bit gloomy and you think you’re on a slippery slope to hip and knee replacements, fear not!! The good news is that there are some steps you can take now to protect your bone health…
Several research studies have identified smoking as a risk factor for osteoporosis and bone fracture. The best thing smokers can do to protect their bones (and their health) is to stop smoking. Smoking cessation, even later in life, may help limit smoking-related bone loss.
What about alcohol?
I was expecting to find that alcohol consumption negatively affects bone health. However, there are some studies which indicate that light to moderate alcohol consumption may actually be beneficial for bone health in post menopausal women. On the other hand, chronic heavy drinking is definitely bad news for bone health (and for the rest of your body). But before you reach for a glass of prosecco, don’t forget that there are lots of other health reasons to cut back on alcohol.
Up your Calcium and Vitamin D intake
Good sources of calcium include dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cheese, tinned fish with bones in (such as sardines, pilchards and tinned salmon), soya beans and tofu, almonds and dark leafy green vegetables (interestingly spinach is not a great source of calcium, so stick with kale, watercress, broccolo and bok choi for calcium). For calcium, the RDA for adults is 700mg. A 30g serve of hard cheese or 200ml of milk delivers over a third of your daily calcium requirements. If you are on a non or low dairy diet, make sure you eat plenty of dark leafy green vegetables and include some tinned fish with bones. You can also get non-dairy milk drinks that are fortified with calcium– I particularly like Rice Dream which is a fortified rice milk drink. For Vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium, food sources include oily fish, eggs, margarine/spreads and breakfast cereals that are fortified with vitamin D. The best source of Vitamin D, however, is the sun.
Get exposure to sunshine
Sunshine, not food, is where most of your vitamin D comes from. Sunlight triggers the production of vitamin D in the body, which in turn helps your body absorb calcium. So try to get out in the sun for short periods during the summer months (however never let your skin redden or get burnt!). In the winter months, you may want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement to make up for the lack of sunshine.
The NHS recommends that all adults should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the autumn and winter.
Do regular weight bearing exercise
Weight bearing exercise is any activity performed standing up, such as walking, running and dancing. When your feet and legs support your weight, your bones have to work harder which makes them stronger.
Start strength training
Muscle strengthening exercise is any activity that requires your muscles to work harder than usual e.g. lifting weights or using your own body weight. This type of resistance exercise works the tendons that attach muscle to the bone, which in turn boosts bone strength. The NHS recommends doing muscle-strengthening exercise at least twice a week to reduce the rate of natural bone loss that occurs from age 35 onwards.
Numerous studies have shown that strength training can play a role in slowing bone loss, and several show it can even build bone.
There are lots of muscle-strengthening exercises you can do without having to join a gym or buy lots of expensive equipment. For your lower body, you can do body weight squats or lunges (use a chair or wall for balance if you need it). For your upper body, if you have some light hand weights (or even a couple of tins of baked beans), suitable exercises include bicep curls, shoulder raises and overhead shoulder presses. If you don’t have any hand weights, then modified press ups and modified tricep dips can be a good place to start. Make sure you warm up before doing any muscle strengthening exercises. Aim for 5 -10 minutes of gentle to moderate aerobic activity with dynamic stretches, and don’t forget to stretch afterwards to reduce next day soreness.
Get a PT to help get you started and keep you motivated
Enlisting the help of a personal trainer is a great way to get into muscle-strengthening exercise. A good personal trainer will ensure you use the correct technique and will keep you motivated. Training with a PT doesn’t have to involve lifting heavy weights in the gym. I use a variety of equipment with my clients to help strengthen their muscles including resistance bands, dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells and TRX suspension training. I’m also a big fan of bodyweight exercise.
If you are thinking about starting some personal training, check out my new PT plans.
If you haven’t exercised for a long time or you have any underlying health issues or concerns such as heart problems, diabetes or high blood pressure, always check with your doctor before starting an exercise programme.
Here’s to healthy and strong bones!!