Building Healthy Bones: A Future Investment

Think of your bones as being like a retirement or pension fund. It’s necessary to make generous and consistent deposits into the fund so that you can reap the rewards later in life.

Well your bones are very similar in that your bone mass peaks in your 30s and thereafter you begin to lose mass so it’s essential that you invest in building healthy bones during childhood and early adulthood.

Your bones provide you with structural support for your body, protect your organs, anchor your muscles and act as a calcium storage reservoir. Your bones are constantly changing and rebuilding; old bone is broken down and replaced with new bone.

But the ability to replace and rebuild bone decreases as you begin to age and the likelihood of developing a bone disease like osteoporosis, which is a progressive disease where bone deteriorates over time, is largely dependent on how much bone mass you have attained by adulthood.

Research reveals that between four to six million South Africans are affected by osteoporosis and it’s further estimated that one in three women and one in five men will develop osteoporosis during their lifetime.

Protect your bones with diet, physical health checks & smart lifestyle choices 



Calcium and Vitamin D are the best vitamin sources for healthy bone development. Calcium plays a structural role in the development and maintenance of your bones and teeth, storing essential mineral deposits that keep your bones healthy.

If your diet is insufficient, in other words if you’re not eating enough calcium enriched foods or if you lack Vitamin D (which facilitates the absorption of calcium), your body will draw calcium from its reservoirs, leaving your bones with poor calcium density or brittle bones. 

Your body cannot produce calcium on its own so it’s essential that you include calcium in your diet in order to build-up these calcium deposits to keep your bones in peak condition.

Check with your local doctor or pharmacist regarding dosage for your particular body type and needs, but the general guidelines for recommended daily intake (RDI) of calcium are:

    ● 1,000 mg for women (ages 19 – 50 years)
    ● 1,200 mg for women (over the age of 50 years)
    ● 2,500 mg for men (ages 19 – 70 years)
    ● 1,200 mg for men (over the age of 70 years)


Some calcium enriched foods that you should add to your regular diet are:

    ● Milk – nutritionists recommend drinking three glasses of milk per day in order to get your daily RDI. Both cow and goat’s milk are excellent calcium sources.

    ● Yoghurt – not only an excellent source of calcium, but it also contains a healthy probiotic bacteria that is good for digestion.

    ● Cheese – hard cheese, like parmesan, is recommended over soft cheese. It’s also a source of protein but high in fat so use in moderation.

    ● Leafy green vegetables – like broccoli, rocket, watercress and kale are all high in calcium. Just take care when it comes to spinach because it contains oxalates that bind to calcium and inhibit absorption into the body.

    ● Salmon and sardines – particularly the canned variety, which have soft edible bones containing both high-quality protein and calcium.

    ● Almonds – with the added advantage of having less fat than peanut butter and additional vitamins like magnesium, manganese and Vitamin E, a handful of almond nuts is rich in calcium deposits.

    ● Fortified drinks – like orange juice are rich in calcium. Just make sure to check the labelling to ensure the quality of the drink.

    ● Seeds – poppy, sesame and chia seeds are the best sources of calcium. They are also high in protein and healthy fats.

    ● Beans and lentils – are a storage unit of goodness, being high in calcium, fibre, protein and micronutrients as well as vitamins like iron, zinc, manganese and potassium.

    ● Edamame and tofu – edamame are soya beans that are still in their pods. One cup of either is purported to give you up to 80% of your RDI.

2. Physical health checks

Some people are at greater risk for developing osteoporosis than others and so should take extra precautions when it comes to their health. Those who are at the greatest risk are women, particularly those over the age of 65 years, who are post-menopausal and have a low estrogen level. Men are also at risk, especially when they are over the age of 70 years.

Any person who is severely underweight, if they have a body mass index (BMI) of 19 or less, can also be at risk for loss of bone mass. Similarly, people with specific medical conditions such as Cushing’s Syndrome can be known to suffer with poor bone health.

Because bone disease and loss of bone mass is a silent aggressor that only manifests itself in the elderly with almost no visible symptoms  beforehand, it’s especially relevant to check your family history to see if any parent, grandparent or immediate relative suffered from bone disease as this increases your genetic chances of developing a hereditary disease.

If you suspect that you’re at risk it’s advisable to undergo a preventative screening test like a bone mineral density test (BMD) to ascertain the amount of minerals present in your bone tissue. If your results reflect poor BMD, then you may need to take supplements or medication.

3. Smart lifestyle choices

Making smart lifestyle choices when you’re younger will pay off in the way of excellent bone health when you’re older. The harmful consequences of tobacco smoking like heart and lung cancer are well known, but smoking also has a direct effect on bone health because smoking lowers the estrogen levels in both men and women. Estrogen is an essential hormone in bone health because it facilitates retention of essential calcium deposits in the bone. Similarly, excessive consumption of alcohol also inhibits the body’s ability to absorb calcium.

Staying active can help your bone structure and development by stimulating bone building cells known as osteoblasts. There are two types of exercises recommended for bone health:

  1. Weight-bearing – this serves to build and maintain bone as the high impact exercises facilitate bone formation and an increase in bone mineral density, bone strength and size. So consider engaging in exercise activities like running or playing tennis.
  2. Muscle-training – this increases muscle mass and protects against bone loss so try bodyweight workouts or routines that involve squats, lunges and planks.


Investing in your bone health with a sensible diet plan, healthy physical checks and smart lifestyle choices will have you enjoying an active life in your senior years. At Topmed we care about your wellbeing so get in touch with us today to sign-up for cover for you and your family.


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Building Healthy Bones: A Future Investment