10 science-backed hacks to build healthy bones

by | Bone health news

slim woman practicing yoga asana for healthy bones

Hormonal changes around menopause can lead to a loss of bone mineral density, making women over 50 more susceptible to fractures. Here are 10 simple ways to build healthy bones.

1. Eat calcium-rich foods for better bones

Menopause-related decreases in the body’s oestrogen levels can lead to the chronic and progressive disease osteoporosis which presents as fragile bones.1 Fortunately, boosting your dietary intake of calcium-rich foods can help to maintain bone health.2

Aim for a variety of daily sources of calcium by eating a mix of dairy (e.g. natural yoghurt, cheese), or calcium-fortified dairy alternatives such as soy milk, along with tinned fish, nuts, dark green vegetables, beans and legumes.1-3

Healthy Bones Australia recommends Australian women over 50 consume 1,300mg of calcium daily.Check out the how much calcium is in the foods you eat here.

Concerned that you might not be consuming enough on calcium? Talk to your GP about whether a blood test to check your body’s calcium levels is appropriate and whether supplementation can help.2

2. Do daily weight-bearing exercise

Activities like brisk walking, dancing, stair climbing, and tennis put stress on your bones, stimulating them to grow stronger. 4 Commit to at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity weight-bearing exercise per week.4

3. Let the sunshine in

While Vitamin D is present in some foods (e.g. oily fish, eggs, red meat), most of the body’s supply is produced in the skin when triggered by exposure to sunlight.5-6 But how much sun do we actually need for better bones? The Australasian Menopause Society suggests as little as five minutes of mid-morning or mid-afternoon sunlight is sufficient.1

For most Australians, that’s the kind of incidental exposure we get walking to the bus stop, hanging out the washing or taking a coffee break outside. But women who spend extended periods indoors or wearing cultural dress that limits skin exposure may require supplementation. If you’re concerned, talk to your GP about whether a blood test to check your body’s Vitamin D stores is appropriate and whether supplementation may be necessary. 

4. Focus on strength training

Yes, cardio is still important for general health but weight training takes on a whole new importance for women over 50. Building lean muscle mass also strengthens bones and improves balance, reducing the risk of falls which can lead to fractures.1,4 Start with light hand weights and gradually increase intensity with guidance from a personal trainer, exercise physiologist or physiotherapy.4

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5. Quit smoking and watch how much alcohol you drink

Any amount of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can accelerate the bone loss which naturally occurs after our mid-30s.1,7-10 The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners considers greater than two drinks per day a risk factor for osteoporosis so switch to smaller glasses and reduced-alcohol beverages or consider quitting altogether for optimal bone health.8

6. Prioritise sleep by keeping to a daily rest routine  

During sleep, your body releases hormones that help build and repair bones. However the Menopause Alliance Australia says between 47 to 60 per cent of perimenopausal and post-menopausal women experience issues with sleep.11

One strategy to improve the quality of your rest is prioritising sleep by sticking to the same time to wake up and go to bed each day.11 Getting your body used to a regular rhythm to rise in the morning and unwind and night takes away much of the mental strain associated with delays in falling asleep and snoozing your alarm the next day. 

7. Boost your balance

Mix up your workout by including balance exercises like tai chi or yoga to improve stability and reduce the risk of falls which are a major risk factor for bone fractures.1,4 Common sites of fractures related to osteoporosis are wrists, hips and spine, often caused by very minor falls or trips so staying flexible and strong is the best protection.1

8. Take a bone health quiz 

Healthy Bones Australia and Garvan Institute of Medical Research have developed a DIY quiz to self-assess your risk of decreasing bone strength here.

Quiz: What’s your risk of decreasing bone health

9. Consider hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for bone protection

Not just for managing menopausal symptoms such as night sweats and vaginal dryness, HRT can also reduce the risk of spinal and hip fractures by 40 per cent, according to the Australasian Menopause Society.1 Furthermore, a recent article in the Medical Journal of Australia states that menopausal hormone therapy is approved for prevention of bone mineral density loss in post-menopausal women.12 Ask your doctor about whether HRT may be suitable for you. 

10. Talk to your GP about your medical history

According to Healthy Bones Australia, certain health conditions and repeated use of common medications can be associated with changes in bone density.7 If you have a gastrointestinal condition that affects how your body absorbs nutrients (e.g. coeliac disease), diabetes, thyroid irregularities, or changes to your kidneys and/or liver function, talk to your GP about whether you may be at higher risk of osteoporosis.7-8 Likewise, if you’ve been treated with repeated courses of oral corticosteroids (e.g. for flare ups of asthma or rheumatoid arthritis), ask your doctor if you could benefit from having a bone mineral density test.8

References

1.     Australasian Menopause Society. Osteoporosis. April 2014. Accessed January 8, 2024. https://www.menopause.org.au/images/stories/infosheets/docs/AMS_Osteoporosis_120918.pdf

2.     Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. Five dietary tweaks for women over 50: from two food experts. December 22, 2023. Accessed January 8, 2024. https://www.jeanhailes.org.au/news/five-dietary-tweaks-for-women-over-50

3.     Healthy Bones Australia. Calcium and bone health. [nd]. Accessed January 8, 2024. https://healthybonesaustralia.org.au/your-bone-health/calcium/

4.     Healthy Bones Australia. Exercise and bone health. [nd]. Accessed January 8, 2024. https://healthybonesaustralia.org.au/your-bone-health/exercise-bone-health/

5.     Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. D-pleted – the vitamin many of us are low on. August 16, 2021. sed January 8, 2024. https://www.jeanhailes.org.au/news/d-pleted-the-vitamin-many-of-us-are-low-on

6.     Cancer Council. Vitamin D. Accessed January 8, 2024. https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/causes-and-prevention/sun-safety/vitamin-d

7.     Healthy Bones Australia. Osteoporosis risk factors. 2024. Accessed January 8, 2024. https://healthybonesaustralia.org.au/your-bone-health/risk-factors/

8.     Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. Osteoporosis risk assessment, diagnosis and management. [nd]. Accessed January 8, 2024. https://www.racgp.org.au/getattachment/5704b636-43c6-4926-8752-402b1641c6f5/Osteoporosis-flowchart.pdf.aspx

9.     Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. Bone health. 2024. Accessed January 8, 2024.

https://www.jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/bone-health

10.  Healthy Bones Australia. Osteoporosis diagnosis. 2024. Accessed January 8, 2024. https://healthybonesaustralia.org.au/osteoporosis-you/diagnosis/

11.  Menopause Alliance Australia. Sleep hygiene. 2022. Accessed January 8, 2024. https://menopausealliance.au/menopause/sleep-hygiene/

12.  Davis SR, Magraith K. Advancing menopause care in Australia: barriers and opportunities. Med J Aust 2023;218 (11): 500-502. Accessed December 28, 2023. https://www.mja.com.au/system/files/issues/218_11/mja251981.pdf