Bone health basics for women

Nearly all of our bone growth is completed during our childhood and teenage years. As we age, more bone is lost than is replaced, which can cause bones to become less dense, lose strength and break more easily. Women are more susceptible to bone loss and bone conditions than men, particularly as they reach menopause.This is because they have naturally smaller, thinner bones and oestrogen, a hormone in women that helps protect bone health, decreases rapidly during the menopausal period.1 However, bone loss is not inevitable in women and good lifestyle habits can help build, strengthen and protect bone health at any age.

Healthy diet

One way to increase your chances of having healthy bones is to ensure you have adequate calcium. Women between the ages of 19 and 50 require 1000mg of calcium daily and women over the age of 51 need 1300mg daily.2 To increase your daily calcium intake include dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese or calcium‐fortified milk substitutes, as well as calcium‐rich green leafy vegetables, tofu (some brands), canned salmon or sardines with soft edible bones, almonds, brazil nuts and unhulled tahini.2 A calcium supplement can also be taken to help meet your calcium needs. Adequate protein is also important as it provides the necessary building blocks of bones.3 Good sources of protein include beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, tofu and legumes.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium in the body and is important for bone and muscle development, function and preservation. The best way to achieve adequate vitamin D levels is through sensible sun exposure, but vitamin D supplements may be suitable for women who avoid the sun, have naturally dark skin, cover up for cultural or religious reasons, or have medical conditions or take medicines that affect vitamin D metabolism.4

Exercise

Exercise is another key factor for good bone health. High intensity weight‐bearing exercise such as running, skipping, aerobics, basketball, and netball, as well as resistance training using free weights or gym machines, can help stimulate bone cell formation.3 To support bone health, women should include a variety of weight‐bearing activities and progressive resistance training for at least 30 minutes three to five times a week.5