Many of us fear “making old bones” for the seemingly inevitable health issues that come along with it. However, many illnesses associated with elderliness (like osteoporosis) are actually preventable. Growing old starts the day you are born and your 80-year-old body is by no means unrelated to your 8-year-old one. If you take care of yourself, you will – literally – feel it in your bones as you advance in years.

Bone up on these healthy habits to prevent osteoporosis in later life:

A Bone-dense Diet

The building blocks of your bones are mainly found in foodstuffs. Eat plenty of the following nutrients to boost your bone health:

Calcium. If your calcium intake is insufficient, it will eventually be leeched from the skeleton to help maintain normal levels thereof in the blood. If this condition persists, it can lead to low bone density and osteoporosis. Get calcium from dairy products, dark green vegetables, sardines, beans, nuts and seeds.

Vitamin D is necessary for the body to absorb calcium and for optimal formation and mineralisation of bone tissue. Obtain it naturally from fatty fish, liver, eggs, cheese, mushrooms and safe amounts of sunlight on the skin.

Proteins. A healthy amount of this nutrient is necessary to build bone and muscle mass. Stock up on legumes, eggs, fish, poultry, meat and dairy.

General good nutrition. Even though the above foods are vital, an overall nutritious and balanced diet is essential to bone health, considering that everything in the body is interrelated. This is also important to maintain a healthy body weight, as being obese (or extremely underweight) is a risk factor to osteoporosis.

Exercise is Excellent

Lazy bones can lead to brittle bones. When we do not exercise, vital parts of our bodies – like bones and muscles –will waste away. On the contrary, exercise builds muscle mass which in turn strengthen bones by putting more strain on the skeleton. Moreover, exercise combats obesity.

Weight-bearing exercises (like walking, jogging, tennis and aerobics) and strength training (like weightlifting and Pilates) are best for bone and muscle building. Always check with your health care specialist before staring an exercise regime.

Reduce the Rubbish

Not only sticks and stones may break your bones, but certain bad habits too. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, drug abuse and an excess sugar, salt, caffeine, carbonated drinks, etc., can all be harmful to your bones.

Start Smart

Never again in your life will your bones grow as much as they do during childhood – especially very early childhood and puberty. Bone-building behaviours during this time will affect your bone density for the rest of your life. Comply with the following guidelines and make sure your children will not have a bone to pick with you one day!

Get the right goodies. Sufficient intake of protein, calcium and vitamin D are especially vital during childhood.

Breast is best for bones. The above-mentioned nutrients are all better absorbed through breast milk than infant formulas and breastfeeding is also a protective factor against obesity. Moreover, breastfeeding reduces a mother’s risk of osteoporosis, even though it temporarily lowers bone density.

Sunny side up! Always be sun smart, but ensure that your children get their necessary vitamin D from limited sun exposure.

Get going! Plenty of moderate exercise (like walking) and adequate intense exercise (like rope skipping) is recommended for children. Yet another motive to limit screen time! However, do not completely overdo it – excessive exercise can have detrimental effects on growing bones.

Prevent puberty problems. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa during puberty is more than “just a phase” as it may have lifelong consequences for bone mass. Shelter your adolescents against this as far as possible.

These habits will hopefully be a precursor to a lasting bone-smart lifestyle that will protect against osteoporosis.

Mental Health Maintenance

Research shows that lower satisfaction with life and higher stress levels negatively impact your bone density because it elevates the cortisol levels in the body and can therefore put you at greater risk for osteoporosis. Ensuring sufficient exercise and nutrition, reducing unnecessary stress and a general positive outlook on life is therefore imperative.

Osteoporosis is an illness that should be addressed from a very young age – well before it potentially becomes a problem. Building and maintaining strong bones through the right lifestyle is pivotal throughout a person’s lifespan.