Nutrition strategies and exercise are often connected to building a leaner, more athletic-looking body. But there are also numerous health benefits of practicing regular exercise and nutritional habits such as bone health. In this article, we’ll look at what the research tells us on nutrition, supplementation and exercise for building and maintaining healthy and strong bones.
NUTRITION FOR STRONGER BONES
Proper nutrition plays a vital role in the development and maintenance of bone structures resistant to physical activity and common mechanical stresses of daily life. And, dietary proteins are the most important nutrients for bone health and function in the prevention of osteoporosis, as a number of studies point to a positive effect of high protein intake on bone mineral density or content.
Now the following question arises: Could a high-protein diet be harmful to your bones? To put it simply, there’s no good scientific evidence that a high protein intake would be detrimental for bone strength and mass in otherwise healthy people. Not only is it based on a myth, it’s a completely backwards myth, since consuming not enough protein has been repeatedly proven to deteriorate your bone health.
For instance, a review study published in 2003 in The Journal of Nutrition concluded that people with chronically low protein intake were at higher risk for lower bone density and more bone loss, while a 2002 study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology suggested that excess protein intake wouldn’t harm the bones if the calcium intake was adequate. In addition, a 1998 study published in Nutrition Reviews discovered that protein supplements helped older people heal faster from bone-related injuries. They looked specifically at femoral fractures—the large leg bone connecting with the pelvis to create the hip joint—and discovered that supplementing with 20 grams of protein daily decreased bone loss and allowed elderly people to return home sooner from rehabilitation facilities.
So, contrary to popular misbelief based on cherry picked data and irresponsible media practices, the real risk to your bone health comes from a low-protein diet, which deteriorates your bone density, body composition and metabolism.
SUPPLEMENTATION FOR STRONGER BONES
Some studies suggest that calcium supplementation could be beneficial in people susceptible to osteoporosis. And, some studies show that co-supplementation of vitamin D with calcium could help prevent bone loss in athletes susceptible to osteoporosis.
Nevertheless, a 2014 review of the scientific literature entitled ‘Vitamin D and Calcium: A Systematic Review of Health Outcomes (Update)’ summarized the body of evidence on the connection between vitamin D alone or in combination with calcium and selected health issues included in their earlier review: primarily those linked to bone health, cardiovascular health or cancer outcomes.
In solid agreement with the conclusions of their original 2009 report, most findings concerning vitamin D, alone or in combination with calcium, on the chosen health issues were inconsistent. The authors of this paper concluded that it was hard to make any substantive statements on the basis of the available evidence concerning vitamin D supplementation, calcium intake, or the combination of both nutrients, with the chosen health outcomes because the majority of the findings were inconsistent.
EXERCISES FOR STRONGER BONES
There is plentiful evidence showing that bone mass can be increased among adults and the elderly by regular exercise, and that the losses in bone mass are closely connected to aging.
However, not all types of exercise have been shown to have positive effects on bone mass. For instance, unloaded exercise such as swimming has not shown to have a positive effect on bone mass, while walking and running have a limited positive impact. Not to mention, cycling has been linked with decreases in bone mineral density (BMD) and bone mineral content (BMC) of the thigh, hip and lumbar spine in both male and female cyclists.
The scientific evidence highlights the importance of high-impact (such as jumping) and resistance training exercises. Workout involving high impacts, even a relatively small amount, seems to be the most efficient for increasing bone mass.
However, since medical or injury limitations may prevent someone from doing high-impact exercises, regular strength training on its own is also a very effective way of boosting and maintaining bone strength and health. Along with promoting muscle mass and strength, resistance training also effectively increases bone mass (i.e., bone mineral density and content) and bone strength, and can lower the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorder (e.g., conditions of the bones, joints, ligaments and muscles) such as osteoporosis. In addition, resistance training can help to slow down or even reverse the loss of bone mass in individuals suffering from osteoporosis.
What’s important to mention for women is that, when it comes to boosting both the health and body improvement benefits of resistance training, those tiny purple dumbbells just won’t do the job. Instead, women benefit from heavy lifting like doing sets in the 6-12 rep range while using a weight load that challenges them within that rep range. Doing this is how you put the strength in “strength training.”
In other words, the principle of specificity—a universal training principle–dictates that the adaptations to training will be specific to the demands the training puts on the body. So, you can build stronger bones by regularly challenging your body to become stronger by using progressively heavier and heavier loads.
To conclude, how to improve and maintain strong and healthy bones? Regularly participate in a progressive resistance-training program that suits your current ability. Drink plenty of water, eat vegetables, lots of protein, whole foods, limit alcohol and minimize refined foods. And, don’t overeat. It doesn’t matter how much science comes out, the above will always be true.