Half of all women and one in five men over 50 will suffer a fracture due to poor bone strength - but do you know how to boost weak bones?
There are 206 of them in the adult body and experts reckon that if we could actually see our bones we would take much better care of them.
“We never hear of a bone care routine the way we do skin care routines – yet weak bones can have so much more impact than the odd wrinkle,” says nutrition expert Max Tuck, author of new book Love Your Bones: The Essential Guide to Ending Osteoporosis and Building a Healthy Skeleton.
And we should all take heed.
Half of women and one in five men over 50 will break a bone because of poor bone strength, says the National Osteoporosis Society’s senior nurse Sarah Leyland.
“It’s very common to get a fracture in later life,” she says. “The balance between building and losing bone, which is ongoing, tends to get out of balance – particularly after the age of 50.”
Weak: Fractures become more common as we get older
Worryingly, a fifth of osteoporotic hip fracture victims die within one year while 30% are forced into a nursing home – it’s the top reason for admission.
Yet weak bones aren’t an inevitable part of growing older and they can be strengthened at any age with dietary and lifestyle changes.
“We need to think of our bones as living, breathing entities rather than just inert scaffolding. Treat them well and they will support you forever,” says Sarah.
Here’s how you can look after them – from morning till night.
7am: Ditch the loud alarm clock & stress
“Stress can rot your bones faster than a can of fizzy drink so try to reduce it from the moment you wake,” advises Max.
Alarmed: Chuck the clock
“The ‘fight or flight’ hormone cortisol breaks down amino acids inside collagen for emergency energy. Collagen is the matrix upon which bones are built.
“This interferes with the formation and spread of bone-building cells, decreasing bone building and lowering bone density. It also causes magnesium – an important bone builder – to drain out of the body.”
Boost your bones: “Use a natural daylight alarm – then spend a few minutes taking deep breaths and thinking positive thoughts” says Max.
7.10am: Drink a glass of water...
...with a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of cayenne pepper to raise levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. This aids digestion, helping our body absorb nutrients which are needed for building bone strength.
Water with a twist: This drink will help digestion
Boost your bones: Drink it in the garden so you also boost your levels of vitamin D from spring sunlight – an essential nutrient for bone strength and fracture resistance. While outside, plan weekend gardening tasks. Pulling weeds and digging soil are great back strengtheners.
7.20am: Make up a green juice or smoothie
Wheatgrass, celery, cucumber, sunflower greens and pea shoots all contain essential nutrients, including calcium, for rebuilding bones, says Max.
Smooth: Green juice contains essential nutrients
A juicer (try the small, easy-to-clean Philips Viva Collection Compact Juicer, £70, from Amazon) separates the juice from fibre which can be difficult to digest – but you’ll still get benefits from blending. Grow your own wheatgrass, buy it fresh or organise home delivery. See therawfoodscientist.com.
Boost your bones: Add six drops of to your juice. It is a liquid extract of the mineral silicon.
“Silica is one of the nutrients involved in the structure of collagen, a matrix of protein which is just as important for bones as it is for hair and nails,” says Max.
Populations with the highest dietary intake of silicon (for example, in India and China) have the lowest incidence of osteoporotic fractures.
7.30am: Get moving
Exercise causes muscles and tendons to pull on the bones – stimulating the production of new bone. Aim for 20-35 minutes of cardio, weight-bearing exercise a day such as brisk walking, light jogging, using a mini-trampoline or skipping.
Exercise: Walking, jogging or even trampolining are all good for the bones (Photo: Getty)
Boost your bones: Three times a week add resistance training to improve bone density. “A workout with resistance bands can increase bone strength by over 10% in just 12 weeks,” says Max. “Even people who are frail can use these to strengthen their bones.” (For exercises see Love Your Bones).
8am: Balance it out
Balance on one leg while you brush your teeth. This will not only help to ‘load’ your hip bones but will help improve balance, reducing the risk of falls, says Lynne Robinson, founder of Body Control Pilates (bodycontrolpilates.com).
Boost your bones: To make it harder, close your eyes.
8.10am: Eat breakfast
For a bone-boosting breakfast eat porridge made with chia seeds – which pack a protein punch – soaked in unsweetened almond milk.
“Dairy milk is low in essential magnesium and cuts absorption of Vitamin D,” says Max. “Countries with high dairy consumption have the highest incidence of osteoporosis.”
Boost your bones: Ditch coffee. “It causes increased tissue acidity, adrenal stress and demineralisation of bones,” says Max
Alternatively, Australian researchers say just three cups of tea a day is linked with a 30% lower risk of fractures, including broken hips.
But don’t overdo it, warns Max. Tea contains tannin which interferes with mineral absorption. Herbal tea is better.
8.30am: Walk like a bird
While waiting for the bus or train, practice ‘pigeon walking’ to improve your ‘moving balance’, says Lynne. “Take slow, exaggerated steps, placing your heel on the floor before your toes – as if walking on a high wire.”
Boost your bones: Work up to pigeon walking in a figure of eight.
9am: At your desk
Desk worries: Sitting up straight and standing can help
Sit tall at your desk to strengthen your spine, improve posture and prevent the ‘dowager’s hump’, says Lynne. “Place both hands upside down on your thighs, then gently press down through your hands as you lengthen up through the crown of your head. Then take your upper spine into a gentle back extension, by lengthening first your head, then your neck, backwards. Finally imagine shining your breast bone forwards and up – taking care not to arch your lower back. Then slowly restack the spine until you are upright.”
Boost your bones: Turn standing up and sitting down into an exercise. Sit tall, feet parallel, hip width apart. Imagine you have swallowed a long stick which stops you bending your spine. Hinge forward from your hips before rising, then stand. Do the reverse to sit back down.
11am: Snack on nuts
Elevenses: Avoid bone-damaging sugary foods and acidic, processed carbs like pastries, biscuits and cakes. Instead snack on high-protein unroasted, unsalted, nuts and seeds.
Boost your bones: Soak almonds in water overnight for a sweeter taste, higher bone-boosting alkaline properties and easier digestion.
1pm: Lunch on greens
Make up a calcium-rich, dark green salad with rocket, watercress (packed with bone-essential vitamin K) spinach, kale, broccoli – topped with a sprinkling of sprouted foods such as alfalfa, radish seeds (raw or lightly steamed), almonds or hemp seeds for extra protein.
Eat your greens: Dark green vegetables are rich in calcium
Boost your bones: Cut down on meat as it’s acidic and causes increased calcium excretion from the bones.
3pm: Berry good snack
Have a handful of blueberries (high in vitamin C) or an apple (high in silicon).
Boost your bones: Opt for locally grown, fully-ripened fruit, advises Max. Unripe fruit is low in minerals and high in sugar – both harmful to bone formation.
4pm: Afternoon exercises
Stave off a mid-afternoon slump with bone-strengthening exercises, says Lucy Windham-Read, personal trainer for Nelsons Arnicare. Standing at your desk (make sure it’s sturdy), take a step back, then place both hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart, fingers pointing forwards. Push your hips forward so your body is in a straight line, then perform a ‘press up’. Repeat until it feels challenging – then perform another set of five.
Boost your bones: Try the ‘mountain climber’ move. In the same starting position, keep arms still and body in line – then lift each knee, in turn, towards the chest, before returning to the floor. Repeat until it feels challenging – then do six more reps.
5.30pm: Move more
“Don’t restrict yourself to one session of exercise a day, says Max. “Look around you for chances to exercise.”
Add brisk walking to your commute. Sign up for a weekly yoga , Pilates or stretching class. Pilates will improve posture, balance and co-ordination to prevent falls. Gentle yoga is great for relaxation.
Strengthening: Yoga and Pilates are both recommended
Boost YOUR bones: Clean the house! See housework, such as going up and down stairs carrying a vacuum cleaner, as a great chance to exercise, says Max. Work up a sweat – squat and lunge between tasks.
6.30pm: Spice up your evening meal
Eat a vegetable stir-fry, chickpea curry or lentil and vegetable casserole for your evening meal, suggests Max. Spices such as turmeric can block the release of small proteins by cells which can cause inflammation in the body. These proteins have been linked to a whole range of diseases, including osteoporosis.
Boost your bones: Switch to sweet potatoes. Despite the name they have half the sugar and four times the minerals of regular spuds.
7pm: Fancy a tipple?
Know your limits: Be careful how much you drink
Before opening a bottle it’s worth remembering that alcoholics have a four-times greater incidence of osteoporosis than the general population, warns Max.
If you are indulging, stick to the new recommended limits, says Sarah Leyland: “Anything over 14 units a week, which is the equivalent of six pints of average strength beer or seven glasses of wine, is excessive.”
Boost your bones: Avoid fizzy drinks. They contain phosphoric acid which not only makes tissues more acidic but binds with magnesium and calcium in the digestive tract preventing their absorption.
9.30pm to 10pm: Wind down for bed
Don’t eat for three hours before bed. “Eating too close to bedtime switches your body from ‘rest’ to ‘digestive’ mode – increasing cortisol levels. Good sleep boosts levels of HGH – the human growth hormone – essential for strong bones,” says Max.
Sleep tight: Get a good night's rest
Boost your bones: Struggling to drop off in bed? Try a cup of camomile or valerian tea.