When you’re young, the last thing you’re usually thinking about is the future. Sure, you know that in order to live a long and healthy life you need to eat more green and less grease, but being young is all about enjoying the here and now.
It’s only when we start getting a little more pain than we used to that we suddenly realise we’re not invincible. Unfortunately, as we grow older, our bone health begins to steadily decline in strength and mass which makes preserving these qualities more and more important.
The same goes for your muscles. Maintaining strength and size with age is incredibly difficult. That’s why you’ll probably notice that Mr. Schwarzenegger isn’t quite as big as he used to be (that also might be due to a lack of special supplements, too!) However, what you will notice about Arnie, is that he’s a lot bigger and a lot stronger than your typical 70-year-old.
The biggest threat to your bones is from osteoporosis which is essentially a disease that makes your bones break a lot easier. The points that are at the most risk are your hips, spine, shoulders, and wrists which all become damaged from falling awkwardly, lifting heavy objects or even just twisting in a certain way. This already sounds pretty bad, but it only gets worse when you find out that your bones might not heal properly, putting you at long-term risk for developing aches, pains, or even a disability.
Today, we’re going to look at what you can be doing right now to make sure your bones and muscles stay as healthy as possible for the rest of your life.
You can’t exactly train your bones like a muscle. It’s not like in your workout split you’ll do:
Monday – Chest & Shoulders
Tuesday – Back
Wednesday – Legs
Thursday – Arms
Friday – Bones
Sunday - Rest
Yet, your bones actually do respond incredibly well to the gym, you just have to make sure that you’re doing the right thing.
If you have any experience with cardio, you’ve probably noticed that long bouts of running aren’t exactly fantastic for making your joints feel good. After a while, your ankles, knees, hips, and even shoulders can take a real beating from the repeated motions. This is because running is quite high impact in terms of other forms of cardio. You’re constantly slamming your feet against the floor again and again and again. Now, this isn’t to say that running is the devil and that a single run will mess up your joints for life, but it is important to use running sparsely unless you’re training specifically for a training event.
Instead try using activities like swimming or cycling. The biggest benefit to swimming is that it trains your entire body with very low impact on your joints. So, you’re getting full-body benefits without putting unnecessary stress on your bones. Cycling is the same, but it’s more-lower body focused which makes it ideal for those who either can’t swim or have pre-existing issues in their upper body. As well as this, these activities help to improve your muscular strength which in turn, increases your bone mass. Pretty neat.
However, if you can, then you should make the basis of your training centred around high-resistance activities such as lifting weights or calisthenics. These no only help to improve your bone density, but also train your joints to become stronger and more stable. You don’t have to use free-weights, either. You can use your own bodyweight or even just machines as long as the main focus is on making your muscles stronger and more capable. In turn, you’ll get the same benefits for your bones. These exercises also help to train you in certain movements where damage can frequently occur, like with lifting heavy objects. Learning the proper form is invaluable for keeping your body safe. Not only this, but you’ll develop more balance and co-ordination, reducing your risk of falling and damaging your body further.
When it comes to changing your body, often the most important point is nutrition, and this definitely rings true for your bones and muscles.
There are two important micronutrients responsible for keeping your bones in check:
- Vitamin D
Unless you live in a sunny climate and spend a lot of time outside, then there’s a high-chance that you’re not getting enough Vitamin D. Many of us will spend the majority of our time plonked behind a desk indoors, not soaking up the rays outside. As well as this, whilst there are certain foods which contain more Vitamin D than others, they don’t often contain enough to put you at healthy levels which is around 400-1000 IU for those under 50 and 800-2000 IU for those above. Therefore, it’s important to take a Vitamin D supplement to boost your levels. As well as the benefits it provides for your bones, Vitamin D also helps with:
- Improving your immune system
- Improving cognition
- Boosting your mood
- Regulating insulin levels
- Supporting cardiovascular health
Not bad for one vitamin!
Calcium is well-known for its role in keeping your bones nice and healthy, but contrary to the vitamin D recommendations, it’s best to get your calcium from food. The best food sources of vitamin D are from dairy (sorry vegans!):
However, you can also get a healthy dose of calcium in green vegetables like:
As well as other non-dairy sources like:
- Fortified dairy-free drinks like soy and almond milk
- Fortified cereals and bread
Lastly, fish is a fantastic source of calcium, but only if you eat the bones. For instance, in the case of tinned salmon where the bones are softer and able to be consumed.
As well as this, to keep your muscles in check, you need to consume a good dose of protein every day. There’s no need to track the exact amount you’re eating as that can become stressful and troublesome to fit into your normal lifestyle. Instead just try to eat a good source of protein with each meal. For instance, breakfast could be eggs on toast with a side of fruit and yogurt and for lunch, you might have a chicken salad. Dinner is always easy to fit in a protein source so you shouldn’t have any issues there.
So, to sum everything up, the main points to focus on are:
- Pick your cardio wisely: swimming and cycling are better choices than running
- But place the focus of your training on developing strength in your muscles
- Eat protein with each and every meal
- Supplement with vitamin D
- Make sure to eat a minimally processed dairy at least once a day
After that, just don’t do anything silly that puts your bones at risk! At the end of the day, your body responds extremely well to regular exercise and a healthy diet, so as long as you’re doing those things, then the chances are that you’re doing alright.