Why do your bones matter?
Your bones start growing inside the womb long before you’re born and don’t stop until you get to around 30 years of age. Your bones form the shape and structure of your whole body. Muscles attach to them to allow you to move and they form a barrier around your internal organs, protecting them from harm. Without your bones, you wouldn’t be able to walk, sit, run, stand or even talk.
You need your bones to be strong. Bones need both calcium and vitamin D for growth. Without these, life-changing conditions such as rickets (in children) and osteoporosis can develop. These are called ‘silent diseases’ as they often don’t present with symptoms during early stages, making them difficult to diagnose.
The good news? Prevention is easy and this site will help you understand how to take care of your bones.
Journey of Bone Health
The early years are a pivotal time for bone growth. Once a baby is born, the skull can take 2-4 months to fully form, while the complete fusing of bones can take as long as 3 years.
5- 30 years
The skeleton continues to develop, lengthen and grow throughout youth and adolescence as teenagers reach their full height. Surprisingly, however, the skeleton doesn’t mature until 25-30 years of age, where it reaches peak strength. It has been shown that building healthy bones during youth can help prevent conditions in later life.
Around the age of 40, bone mass slowly starts to decline as the speed of bone loss overtakes bone growth. The rate of this decline can be affected by many factors, including genetics, lifestyle and the impact of exercise and diet in early life.
Bone loss naturally accelerates as we age and the skin’s ability to synthesise vitamin D starts to decline rapidly. Women are more at risk due to the menopause, increasing the risk of conditions such as osteoporosis. A healthy, balanced diet, active lifestyle and vitamin D supplementation are essential to maintaining healthy bones into old age.
Keep your bones healthy
In addition to treatment, there are many small changes you can make to your lifestyle to help keep your bones strong throughout your life.
High intensity exercise, such as running or football, is great for children’s bone health. By participating in these from a young age right up to adulthood, they will build bone strength that lasts into later life.
Maintaining an active lifestyle is also important in later years. This can involve brisk walks, any form of dancing, swimming or even gardening. All contribute to strengthening muscles, improving balance and co-ordination.
A healthy, balanced diet is an elixir for many aspects of health and bones are no different. Maintaining a healthy diet is important throughout childhood and into later life. Eating a variety of foods, including fruit and vegetables, fish and wholegrain foods help you and your family receive the vitamins and minerals required to maintain healthy bones.
There are three major lifestyle factors that have an impact on your bones:
Smoking has been shown to slow down the cells that make bone, resulting in lower bone density, an increased risk of fractures and slower healing from broken bones. Quitting smoking at any time is the best thing smokers can do to protect their bones.
High levels of alcohol can decrease bone formation and increase the breakdown of bone. To avoid the negative effects of alcohol consumption, follow the government’s recommended weekly intake level of 14 units, ensuring to have alcohol free days
Higher BMI is correlated with increased bone mass and also provides cushion should you fall. However, being overweight can increase your fracture risk and affect your overall health. Staying within your normal body weight range is the key to reducing the risk of fractures in later life.
Consequences of poor bone health
Though you may not be able to see the symptoms of deteriorating bone quality, the consequences are very real and can have a severe impact at any age.
Vitamin D deficiency is a major factor contributing to poor bone health in children.The absorption of calcium is impaired, leading to inhibited bone growth. Symptoms may include tiredness, aching muscles and soft bones. In serious cases deficiency can result in Rickets, which may result in skeletal deformities such as bowed legs and stunted growth.
50 and Over
Due to the increasing bone loss that occurs as we age, people over 50 – in particular post-menopausal women, are at higher risk of bone-related conditions. Osteomalacia, Osteopenia and Osteoporosis are three of the most severe:
Osteomalacia is the softening of bones due to inadequate levels of calcium and vitamin D.
Osteopenia is the midway point between healthy bones and osteoporosis. While a fracture is the most common reason for diagnosis, you may also be referred for a bone health check – called a DEXA scan. If you have visited your doctor because of tiredness or other symptoms, this could flag that you have the early signs of osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis weakens bones making them brittle and more likely to break. Often osteoporosis isn’t diagnosed until a minor fall results in a fracture. This is commonly a wrist or hip fracture.
Vitamin D is important to ensure normal bone development in the foetus and for the maintenance of bone health in the mother. Pregnant mothers are particularly at risk of deficiency, which if untreated can lead to conditions such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia.
Job code: FUL-519
Date of preparation: June 2019