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Healthy diet and exercise key to strong bones

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Eating a diet rich in calcium and staying healthy with plenty of regular exercise is the key to reduce the risks of developing osteoporosis – a major health concern in Australia, especially with an aging population – says the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).

National Healthy Bones Week, which runs from 3-9 August, is an important tool to raise awareness of the health benefits of eating calcium-rich food to build and maintain healthy bones and prevent osteoporosis.

“This year’s theme, Lifting the Lid on Lunch, focuses on the benefits of having a calcium-rich lunch at primary school to maximise peak bone mass and support our kids as they grow,” said Dr Vasantha Preetham, RACGP President and Perth-based GP.

“Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become fragile and brittle, leading to a higher risk of fractures. It occurs when bones lose minerals more quickly than the body can replace them, leading to less bone density. In Australia , osteoporosis affects one in two females and one in three males over the age of 60.

“At the age of 30, maximum bone density is reached and most of this is achieved by puberty when there is the greatest rate of bone growth.

“Developing strong bone mass starts during childhood and adolescence. It is important that parents and carers teach primary school children which foods are ‘bone friendly’ – such as milk, yoghurt, most cheeses, nuts, breads, cereals, fruits and vegetables – and help them understand that the choices they make now can make a big difference in how they feel later in life.

“Although genetic factors largely determine the size and density of your bones, there are many lifestyle factors, such as good nutrition, regular exercise, and avoiding smoking and excess alcohol that you can control.

“If you are concerned you may be at risk of osteoporosis talk to your general practitioner,” said Dr Preetham.

Key tips to reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis:

Calcium is essential for building and maintaining bone; ensure an adequate calcium intake at all stages of your life:

  • Children 5 to 9 years should aim for 2 to 3 serves of calcium-rich foods each day to reach a total intake of 800-1000 mg/day 
  • Children and adolescents aged 9 to 18 years should aim for at least 3 serves of calcium-rich foods a day to reach a total intake of 1000-1300 mg/day 
  • Adults up to the age of 51 years should aim to consume at least 2 serves of calcium-rich foods a day to reach a total intake of 1000 mg/day 
  • Postmenopausal women should aim for at least 3 serves of calcium-rich foods to reach a total daily intake of 1000-1300 mg/day 
  • For adults over 70 years, 1300 mg of calcium a day is recommended 
  • To find out the calcium content of selected foods, please visit www.osteoporosis.org.au/files/general/calcium_content_table.pdf

Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium from the stomach; maintain sufficient supply of Vitamin D 

  • Through adequate, safe exposure to the sun, through diet, or through supplements 
  • For Australians, the main source of vitamin D is from exposure to sunlight. However, you should remember that the Australian sun is unforgiving, so take precautions with sunscreen and protective clothing 
  • To get enough sunlight to produce vitamin D, a person needs to expose their hands, face and arms (around 15% of body surface) to sunlight for about 6-8 minutes, 4-6 times per week before 10am or after 3pm Standard Time in summer

Maintain a healthy body weight 

  • Being underweight is a strong risk factor for osteoporosis (body mass index less than 18.5 kg/m2)

Regular physical activity on a long-term basis has a particularly important role in maintaining healthy bones 

  • Regular weight bearing exercise (e.g. walking, running, gym, strength training) helps build bone mass and strength in the young, maintains bone density in adults, and slows down bone loss in the elderly

Other lifestyle factors 

  • Avoid smoking as it hampers the work of bone-building cells and increases the risk of fracture 
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption, as high intakes (more than 2 standard units per day) have been linked to increased risk of hip and other osteoporotic fractures 
  • Use salt and caffeine in moderation, as these can promote calcium loss from the body, especially if calcium intake is inadequate

(Source: Royal Australian College of General Practitioners: August 2008)

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Dates

Posted On: 23 August, 2008
Modified On: 16 January, 2014

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