Healthy musculoskeletal system key to maintaining bone strength in later life
Bones and Joints We need healthy bones throughout our lives to complete daily tasks, explains Dr Kate Ward, Associate Professor at MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology, University of Southampton and Secretary of the Bone Research Society.
Osteoporosis is often seen as an older person’s disease, but the risks of developing it can be reduced if we boost our musculoskeletal system throughout our lives.
In the UK half of women and 20% of men aged over 50 will suffer a fragility fracture.
Usually, bones break or crack when excessive force is applied to them and the type of fracture will depend on the circumstances. Someone might fall from a height, experience a sporting injury. However with osteoporosis, these broken bones occur with minimal trauma, a fall from standing height or less, particularly as a person gets older (osteoporosis).
Bone mass peaks by our twenties so it is crucial to nurture bone health through weight – bearing exercise and a healthy diet while we are still growing and then as we age.
The musculoskeletal system is complex and includes bones, muscles, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, joints and other connective tissues. Keeping all these elements healthy will help to prevent fractures and osteoporosis.
Muscles need to be healthy to move the bones, and strong muscles build healthy bones because bones remain fit by adapting to muscle movement and loading.
“Muscle loading is the primary determinant of postnatal bone strength because our bones have to react to changes to remain functional,” says Dr Kate Ward, associate professor at MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology, Southampton and the Bone Research Society.
Someone’s risk of osteoporosis can be assessed with a DXA scan which assesses bone mineral density (BMD)
Dr Ward says weight-bearing exercises that have varied patterns of loading, including aerobics, jogging and tennis, walking and weight-training are beneficial for bone health and osteoporosis prevention.
She adds that in later life lower impact exercises and activities such as Tai Chi and Pilates can improve flexibility and balance and prevent falls which is an important part of osteoporosis prevention.
“People tend not to know they have unhealthy bones until there is a problem,” she says. “They might notice some height loss linked to their vertebrae weakening, or fracture their wrist or hip when they fall from a standing height.” As people get older they lose muscle mass and strength through a disease called Sarcopenia which affects a person’s balance, posture and ability to perform daily tasks.
Someone’s risk of osteoporosis can be assessed with a DXA scan which assesses bone mineral density (BMD). If someone is concerned they should consult their GP.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is good for our bones. Anyone with a low BMD might need to increase their dietary intake of calcium, Vitamin D and eat more protein-containing foods to strengthen their bones. The skeleton houses 99% of our body’s calcium stores and Vitamin D helps us to absorb it.
Ideal sources of protein include lean red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy foods. Vegetable sources include lentils and kidney beans, soya products, grains, nuts and seeds.
We all need to take a lifelong approach to looking after our bones
Ensuring we eat and exercise healthily will also help to maintain our muscle health and prevent sarcopenia, which in turn helps reduce risk of falling and fracture.
“We all need to take a lifelong approach to looking after our bones,” says Dr Ward. “As we get older we need to continue with appropriate weight-bearing exercises or lower impact activities to build our core strength and prevent falls.”