Looking after your bone health

We know to encourage children to eat plenty of calcium rich foods to help build strong bones and teeth as they grow. But did you know there are things we should all be doing to protect our bone health at every stage of life?

Our bones change continually during our lives. Bones are living tissues made up of nerves, blood vessels and marrow. They typically reach peak bone mass when we’re around 30 years of age. Beyond 30, bone loss gradually increases as a natural part of the ageing process.

Good bone health can contribute to a better quality of life as we age. So it’s vital to take care of our bone health now. Here’s our advice:

Eat calcium rich foods

Calcium is an essential mineral for healthy bone development. There are so many ways to include calcium in your diet: obvious sources are cheese, milk and yoghurt – or fortified dairy alternatives. Vegetables rich in calcium include broccoli, kale, rocket, spinach, watercress, pak choi and leeks. Almonds, tinned salmon with bones, sardines, soy products and fortified cereals are great calcium sources too.

(People with certain health conditions and post-menopausal women may also need to take a calcium supplement – check with your GP.)

Increase your vitamin D intake

Getting enough vitamin D can help our bodies absorb calcium. Dietary sources of vitamin D include dairy products, fish oils and eggs. Try to boost your vitamin D levels by getting out in natural sunlight every day too.

Include potassium in your diet

Potassium can help to neutralise the acids that eliminate calcium in the body. Sources of potassium include sweet potatoes, jacket potatoes, white beans, fish, dried apricots, bananas and yoghurt.

Adopt a healthy lifestyle

with a well balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and limit how much alcohol you drink.

Enjoy coffee in moderation too: caffeine can affect how the body absorbs calcium.

Give up smoking

If you’re a smoker, quitting can help improve your bone health since nicotine can affect the absorption of calcium and reduce blood flow to the bones.

Keep moving

A sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for osteoporosis (together with a whole host of other ailments). Weight bearing exercise in particular is beneficial to our bones. That’s any exercise done on foot, so activities like walking, running, dancing and playing racket sports are all good. And muscle strengthening exercises are helpful too. Whether you use resistance bands, dumbbells, ankle weights, your own body weight or machines, strengthening exercises pull harder on bones, stimulating the skeleton and slowing bone loss.

Improve balance

For older people in particular it’s important to do some exercise based around improving balance, in order to reduce the risk of falls. Pilates, yoga and Tai Chi are all good.

Concerned about your bone health? Make an appointment with your GP and ask if they think you need a bone density check. They’ll consider contributing factors such as family history, your age and and your own medical history.

Useful links:

The biology of bones

More information about osteoporosis prevention

Menopause and bone health

Strengthen your core to reduce back pain

imgSuffering with lower back pain? There are ways to tackle it without resorting to drugs or surgery and strengthening your core muscles is one of them.

When our core muscles are weak, we’re more likely to have poor posture and this can make us more susceptible to lower back pain. The core of the body is the muscles in the pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen. These muscles are the foundation of movement and essential for good posture and balance. Strengthening our core muscles can help with correct spinal alignment and prevent straining the muscles of the back.

Now, we’re not talking 400 sit-ups before breakfast every day here. Although exercises like ab crunches and planks do help to build a stronger core, there are more gentle ways of training your core muscles. Core exercises should involve the major muscles in the abdomen, including our internal and external obliques and our transverse abdominals. Yoga and pilates each have moves to train these core muscles. Lifting free weights while keeping the trunk of the body stable can help too.

The bridge is a classic exercise to build a stronger core. Here’s how you do it: lie on your back with your knees bent. Keep your back in a neutral position – not arched and not pressed into the floor, and avoid tilting your hips. Tighten your abdominal muscles and raise your hips off the floor until your hips are aligned with your knees and shoulders. Hold the position for as long as you can.

The wall sit is another good exercise that works the core: Stand 10 to 12 inches from the wall, then lean back until your back is flat against the wall. Slowly slide down until your knees are slightly bent, pressing your lower back into the wall. Hold for a count of 10, then carefully slide back up.

Click here for more recommended exercises for low back pain – plus some to avoid.

There are some great exercises using fitness balls on the Mayo Clinic website.

You might find The Telegraph’s ‘Back pain relief in just five minutes a day’ useful too.

We love this short video on a yoga-based workout for building a stronger core.

And this article on Peak Fitness considers four types of core strengthening and their effectiveness to treat back pain.

Remember to talk to your doctor before starting a course of exercise, or discuss it with your osteopath on your next visit to Good Health Centre.

Do your health a favour – get on your bike!

shutterstock_313088534Our practice founder Ami Sevi is a keen cyclist who regularly gets out on his bike around our part of Yorkshire at the weekend. This week’s blog post looks at the health benefits of cycling and how it can help people with certain back conditions.

Cycling is in the top three recreational activities in the UK with an estimated 3.1 million of us getting on our bikes each month.
It’s a great way to keep the body moving through gentle exercise and, while cycling doesn’t specifically target the back muscles, they’re working to keep the body in the proper position on a bike ride, aligning the pelvis and preventing hyperextension of the back.

Unlike with other forms of aerobic exercise, it’s possible to cycle without jolts and jars to the spine and joints. A steady paced bike ride on flat ground offers low impact exercise that helps to keep the joints moving, while working muscles in the legs, abs and back.

Getting out on the bike can help to tone and strengthen these muscles, as well as boosting our balance and co-ordination. As with other forms of exercise, cycling can help to relieve stress. It may even keep us young – there’s evidence to suggest that regular cyclists have the general health of someone around 10 years younger. And it’s a great calorie burner too: a moderately paced cycle ride will burn around 500 calories an hour.

Using a stationary exercise bike can be particularly gentle on the spine while giving a good aerobic workout. Patients with spinal stenosis and osteoarthritis in particular may benefit from this gentle type of workout. Leaning forward on an upright exercise bike offers more comfort to people suffering spinal stenosis than a normal sitting position. And osteoarthritis patients find that stationary bikes provide a means to comfortable, low impact exercise while reducing stiffness, keeping joints flexible and strengthening those muscles that support the joints.

This post on Spine Health has advice on using an exercise bike for a low stress workout.

We like this post on why cycling is good for our general health from British Cycling.

The British Cycling website also has this advice for anyone wanting to get into cycling.

And here are BackCare’s tips on looking after your back when out cycling.

Have we inspired you to get on your bike? Remember your helmet and, if you’re going out after dark, your high visibility gear too.