Men’s health: Supporting bone health
Unless something’s niggling, chances are, you probably don’t think about your bones all that much. As it happens, bones don’t usually receive the recognition they deserve until old age, with many of us wrongly assuming that poor bone health only affects elderly populations. The truth is we all need to live in a way that supports bone health at every age. Because waiting for that wake-up call fall is no fun at all…
Soak up some sun
Aside from making you glow inside and out, the sun is an integral part of our evolutionary heritage. When your skin is directly exposed to the sun’s powerful ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, your body synthesises highly bio-available (readily absorbed) vitamin D: vitamin D3. And, crucially, vitamin D contributes to the maintenance of normal bones.
Of course, you shouldn’t fry yourself to a crisp in the name of vitamin D. In the UK, Caucasian adults require approximately 13-minutes of unprotected midday sun exposure to the hands, lower legs, forearms in summer, three times a week, to maintain optimal levels of vitamin D.(28) If you have darker skin, you will need to spend longer in the sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D as those with lighter skin.
Resistance training is another tremendously useful tool for your bone health toolkit. Bones and muscles work synergistically (enter the musculoskeletal system). Put simply, if your muscles are in shape, then your bones will likely be in shape. Try this: hillwalking, cycling, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, lifting weights and even heavy gardening.
Embrace your inner yogi
Improving your flexibility completes the triumvirate of bone-bolstering exercises. Consider this: if you have a stronger core (the midsection of your body), you’re less likely to fall and injure your bones. As a man, you have to work a little harder on limbering up, as women are naturally more flexible. But yoga, tai chi, water aerobics and Pilates will help you harness your nimble-footed prowess.
Much like the rest of your body, your bones crave movement. And they love variety, too (it is the spice of life, after all!). The pushing and tugging that happens in weight-bearing exercise help strengthen bones, making it an excellent option to support your overall bone health. Walking, jogging, or higher-impact sports, like tennis, football, or squash, are all great examples of weight-bearing exercise.
Ditch the smokes!
Amongst other things, smoking harms your blood vessels, compromising blood flow and making it harder for your body to heal fractures when they occur.
And that’s not all. Smoking also releases legions of free radicals (unstable chemicals) and nicotine, which are known to impact your bone-making cells, osteoblasts. Researchers found that one in eight hip fractures may result from cigarette smoking. (29) Do whatever you can to stub this habit out.
To safeguard your bone health as you age, you may consider adding the following to your diet.
When you think bones, you think calcium – and you’re not wrong. Calcium is needed for the maintenance of normal bones. Eat it: kale.
As we’ve already mentioned, vitamin D contributes to the maintenance of normal bones. The Department of Health recommends that all UK adults take at least 10µg of vitamin D3 between October and March. Since these months are darker, our bodies are unable to manufacture adequate vitamin D3. And although you can get your vitamin D fix from food (you can find it in: eggs, oily fish and liver), it can be hard to attain reliable levels, especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan.
Who’s at risk of low vitamin D?
Men who get little or no sunlight
Men over 65 years
Men with darker skin, like those of South Asian or African origin
Men who are significantly overweight
Men on vegan or vegetarian diets
An unsung star in the nutritional world, vitamin K contributes to the maintenance of normal bones. Eat it: pork.
A multi-faceted and powerful mineral, magnesium contributes to the maintenance of normal bones. Eat it: dark chocolate.
A true vitamin VIP, vitamin C contributes to normal collagen formation for the normal function of bones. Eat it: broccoli.
- Rhodes, L., Webb, A., Fraser, H., Kift, R., Durkin, M., Allan, D., O'Brien, S., Vail, A. and Berry, J., 2010. Recommended Summer Sunlight Exposure Levels Can Produce Sufficient (≥20ngml−1) but Not the Proposed Optimal (≥32ngml−1) 25(OH)D Levels at UK Latitudes. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 130(5), 1411-1418.
- Law MR, Hackshaw AK (1997) A meta-analysis of cigarette smoking, bone mineral density and risk of hip fracture: recognition of a major effect. BMJ, 315:841-6.