Bone is a living tissue which provides a supportive framework for the body. It's made up of a network of fibre, packed with bone crystals which contain calcium and other minerals.
Building and maintaining health bones throughout your life can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Like all tissues in the body, bone is constantly changing through the addition of new cells and removal of old cells; this is known as bone turnover. This process renews, reshapes and repairs the bone, and enables them to increase in size and density throughout childhood and adolescence.
Peak bone mass is usually reached in the late twenties. From our 40s onwards, more bone cells are replaced than renewed and our bones gradually lose their density. This is a normal process but in some people a severe loss of bone occurs and results in a condition known as osteoporosis ('porous bones'), which leaves the bones more prone to fractures and breaks. One in two women and one in five men will break a bone as a result of osteoporosis after the age of 50 (National Osteoporosis Society).
Our risk of developing osteoporosis in later life is very much influenced by genetics but there are aspects of our lifestyle that can have an impact on our bone health.
Live an active lifestyle - exercise is one of the most important factors to influence bone health throughout all stages of your life, in particular weight-bearing exercise activities such as weight lifting, jogging, brisk walking and dancing
Eat a healthy diet - this includes a minimum of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, which provide key nutrients including some calcium (green leafy vegetables) and magnesium, both of which are important for bone health.
Milk and dairy products are also important as they're good sources of calcium and phosphorus, important for bone structure. Try to include 2-3 portions of dairy products in your daily diet.
Meat and fish supply protein which is vital for all growing tissue and you'll find some vitamin D, also essential for bones, in oily fish and some red meat.
Starchy foods such as bread and breakfast cereals are often fortified with calcium and other vitamins.
Calcium is particularly important for bone health. Some groups of people have low intakes of calcium which may put them at greater risk of bone loss in later life. Young people, especially girls of secondary school age, and young women, are especially at risk if they eat few dairy products and drink a lot of carbonated soft drinks.
Vitamin D is also important for healthy bones as it helps our body to absorb calcium. We can make vitamin D from exposure to sunlight and we store it in fat to help us get through the winter. Some groups of the population may not get enough vitamin D from sunlight as they do not spend enough time outdoors (older people) or they cover up for religious reasons. These people may need a supplement.
Gender - both men and women suffer bone loss with age, but hormonal changes at the menopause increases bone loss in women. Hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) may be used as a treatment to replace the natural loss of oestrogen and to decrease the risk of osteoporosis.
Alcohol - drinking a lot of alcohol can decrease bone density, so try not to exceed the maximum recommended limits - for men 3-4 units a day and for women 2-3 units a day.
Being underweight - having a BMI of less than 18.5 can increase the risk of osteoporosis
Smoking - smokers have greater rates of bone loss in older age than non smokers
For further information on bone health visit the National Osteoporosis Society website
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