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Exploring the Impact of Diet vs. Exercise on Bone Health

6 min read

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by Dr. Kurt Hong

Senior couple jogging to improve bone health

We all know that both diet and exercise are important for maintaining good bone health. It is, however, sometimes challenging to focus on both. So what should be your first priority for enhancing bone health? Diet or exercise? 

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While exercise is still very important for maintaining strong bones, and you can’t substitute it, diet also plays a vital role in preserving your overall bone health. 

Without proper nutrition and a balanced diet containing adequate vitamin D and calcium, it is difficult to preserve bone mass and maintain bone density even if you exercise regularly. 

In this article, we will discuss in detail what is needed to build stronger bones. We will also address the types of nutrition you need to include in your daily diet to maintain healthy bones.

What Makes Bones Strong: Diet or Exercise, or Both?

Did you know that your bones are made of collagen, proteins, and minerals (particularly calcium), and the main storage sites of calcium in your body are in the bones? 

Calcium is the building blocks of our bones; hence, the framework of the bones are made strong and hard through the deposition of calcium. Calcium also helps our muscles, heart, and nerves work properly. 

Since our bodies do not make calcium by itself but receive it only through our diets, it is important to maintain adequate daily calcium intake. For the absorption and utilization of calcium, the body needs vitamin D. This means calcium and vitamin D are the major nutrients that make the bones strong. Inadequate intake over time makes our bones weaker and increases the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

With an adequate amount of vitamin D, calcium, and other minerals, the bones get the required nutrition to stay healthy. Hence, diet is the first factor that maintains healthy bones. 

Another factor is exercise. Exercise stimulates the bones to withstand and adapt to the stress they encounter through exertion, making them stronger and more resistant to injuries and fractures. For example, moderate-intensity resistance training exercises, like brisk walking, weight lifting, hiking, stair climbing, or jogging, help strengthen the bones and muscles. 

In short, diet plays the foremost role in keeping the bones strong, but exercise helps to maintain their strength, making them resistant to falls and fractures.

What Is the Best Diet for Bones? 

As discussed, a diet rich in vitamin D and calcium is necessary to keep the bones healthy and strong. There are various dietary sources that include sufficient amounts of vitamin D and calcium, including dairy products like milk, yogurt, cheese, green leafy vegetables, and egg yolk.

Including these foods in your diet can strengthen your bone health and prevent the risks of fractures, injuries, and chronic diseases that weaken the bones, like osteoporosis and rickets. 

An adult aged 18 – 70 needs at least 600 IU (International Units) of vitamin D per day. For those over age 70, the recommended daily vitamin D intake is 800 IU. For calcium, 1,000 mg daily intake is recommended for ages 18 – 70, and for those over 70, 1,200 mg daily intake is recommended. In addition to dietary intake, the body needs sun exposure to fulfill vitamin D requirements. 

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Best Sources of Calcium: 

Muesli or crunch with yogurt and fresh berries

Below is a list of the top calcium-rich foods that you can include in your daily diet to maintain bone health and prevent the loss of bone density: 

  • Seeds, including sesame, poppy, chia, or celery seeds. Eating 1 tablespoon of all or any of these seeds fulfills over 7 – 10% of the daily recommended value of calcium. In addition, seeds are an ideal source of proteins and healthy fats. 
  • Dairy products, like 1 cup of plain low-fat yogurt, or parmesan cheese
  • Beans and lentils
  • Canned salmon 
  • 1 cup of leafy green vegetables, such as spinach
  • 28 grams of almonds  
  • Orange juice

Best Sources of Vitamin D  

Taking a combination of sunlight exposure and a diet enriched with vitamin D is the ideal way to fulfill your vitamin D requirement and keep your bones healthy. 

In addition to promoting bone health, vitamin D is crucial for regulating other body functions, such as those involving the brain or immune system. Vitamin D can also be beneficial for our muscles and teeth. For people suffering from vitamin D deficiency, a vitamin D supplement may be necessary along with dietary sources.

The following are some foods that are rich in vitamin D:

  • Egg yolks
  • Mushrooms
  • Fatty fish (salmon, trout)
  • Cod liver oil
  • Mushrooms

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