Although your genes determine your potential height and the strength of your skeleton, lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise can influence how healthy your bones are.
Regular exercise is essential. Adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e. cycling or fast walking) every week. Weight-bearing exercise and resistance exercise are particularly important in improving bone density and helping prevent osteoporosis.
If you've been diagnosed with osteoporosis, it's a good idea to talk to your GP or health specialist before you take up any new exercise activity, to make sure it's right for you.
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Weight-bearing exercises are exercises where your feet and legs support your weight. High-impact weight-bearing exercises, such as running, skipping, dancing, aerobics and even jumping up and down on the spot, are all useful ways to strengthen your muscles, ligaments and joints. When exercising, wear footwear that provides your ankles and feet with adequate support, such as trainers or walking boots.
People over the age of 60 can also benefit from regular weight-bearing exercise. This can include brisk walking, keep-fit classes or a game of tennis. Swimming and cycling are not weight-bearing exercises.
Resistance exercises use muscle strength, where the action of the tendons pulling on the bones boosts bone strength. Examples include press-ups, weightlifting or using weight equipment at a gym. If you have recently joined a gym or have not been for a while, your gym will probably offer you an induction. This involves being shown how to use all the equipment and recommended exercise techniques. If you are unsure how to use a piece of equipment or how to do an exercise, ask a gym instructor for help.
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Eating a healthy, balanced diet is recommended for everyone. It can help prevent many conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and many forms of cancer, as well as osteoporosis.
Calcium is important for maintaining strong bones. The recommended intake of calcium is at least 700mg a day. This is about equivalent to one pint of milk. Calcium can also be found in a number of different foods, including green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, tofu and yoghurt.
Vitamin D is also important for bones and teeth as it helps your body to absorb calcium. Vitamin D can be found in eggs, milk and oily fish. However, most vitamin D is made in the skin in response to sunlight. A short exposure to sunlight, without sunscreen (10 minutes twice a day) throughout the summer should provide you with enough vitamin D for the whole year.
Certain groups of people may be at risk of not getting enough vitamin D. These include people who may be housebound or particularly frail, people with a poor diet or who keep covered up in sunlight because they wear total sun block or adhere to a certain dress code, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. If you are at risk of not getting enough vitamin D through your diet or lifestyle, you can take a vitamin D supplement. For adults, 10 micrograms a day of vitamin D is recommended. The recommended amount for children is 7 micrograms for babies under six months, and 8.5 micrograms for children aged six months to three years. Talk to your GP for more information.
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Other lifestyle factors that can help prevent osteoporosis include:
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