What Do Calcium, Vitamin D & Exercise Have In Common?

September 22, 2021

I’ll give you a hint; It begins with ‘O’. 

It’s Osteoporosis, a common disease in Australia that affects around 1.2 million people over the age of 50. It makes bones become brittle leading to a higher risk of breaks than in normal bone and occurs when bones lose minerals, such as calcium, more quickly than the body can replace them, causing a loss of bone thickness (bone density or mass). There are usually no symptoms until a fracture occurs, which is why osteoporosis is often called the ‘silent disease’. 

So, let’s talk about prevention.

You can take action to maintain and improve your bone health at every stage of life. Adequate calcium intake, proper vitamin D levels (to help absorb calcium) and specific exercises are all important for healthy bones. This is especially important for people who have been advised they have low bone density. 


Calcium is essential for building and maintaining bone. Almost 99% of the body’s calcium is found in the bones. Calcium combines with other minerals to form hard crystals that give your bones strength and structure.

A small amount of calcium is absorbed into the blood; this calcium is essential for the healthy functioning of the heart, muscles, blood and nerves. Bones act like a calcium bank, if you do not take in enough calcium from your diet, the body will withdraw calcium from your ‘bone bank’ for use in other parts of the body. If your body withdraws more calcium than it deposits, your bone density (bone strength) will gradually decline, and you may be at risk of developing osteoporosis.

For women over 50+, the recommended daily calcium intake is 1,300mg, and for men, it’s 1,000mg. This is because women tend to have smaller, thinner bones than men, and in addition, Estrogen, a hormone in women that protects bones, decreases sharply when women reach menopause. 

Here are a few tips to increase your calcium intake;

  • Dairy foods contain a high level of calcium which is easily absorbed – include three serves per day in your normal diet, e.g., a glass of milk (250 ml), a tub of yoghurt (200 g), a slice of cheese (40 g). Low-fat options contain similar levels of calcium.
  • Try canned salmon or sardines which contain bones rich in calcium
  • Use yoghurt in soups or salads
  • Add milk or skim milk powder to soups or casseroles
  • Try soy-based products and tofu that contain calcium 
  • Include broccoli, mustard cabbage, Bok Choy, silverbeet, cucumber, celery and chickpeas in your regular diet
  • Eat more almonds, dried figs and dried apricots
  • Products fortified with calcium (e.g. some breakfast cereals) can help improve your calcium intake

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for bone health because it helps absorb calcium. It also plays a role in supporting growth and maintenance of the skeleton and regulating calcium levels in the blood.

Vitamin D and sunshine

For most of us, the main source of vitamin D is from exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D is produced when our skin is exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) light from the sun. The amount of sun exposure required to produce adequate levels of vitamin D is relatively low.

However, many Australians do not have adequate vitamin D levels, especially during winter. Sun exposure times will vary based on the season, location in Australia and skin type and amount of skin exposed. 

In summer, exposure is best at mid-morning or mid-afternoon outside peak UV times. In summer, most Australian adults will maintain adequate vitamin D levels during typical day-to-day outdoor activities.  In winter, longer exposure times are needed preferably around midday. In summer a few minutes most days will give you the vitamin D you need, during the winter months it may be a few hours a week. 

You can check the UV index via the Cancer Council Website or myuv.com.au.

If you are interested to find out what your Vitamin D level is, a simple blood test will tell you. Just ask your Doctor. They may also discuss your level of sun exposure, medical history and review of risk factors. 

A limited number of foods contain small amounts of vitamin D such as oily fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring, liver, egg yolks and some fortified products, but food alone cannot provide an adequate amount of vitamin D and most people are reliant on sun exposure to reach recommended levels.


Regular physical activity and exercise play an essential role in maintaining or improving bone density. Exercise also increases the size, strength and capacity of our muscles. However, exercise must be regular and ongoing to have a proper benefit. Our bones become stronger when a certain amount of impact or extra strain is placed on them. This means there are specific types of exercises that are better for bone.

As we age the focus of exercise is to increase or maintain muscle mass and strength, and address risk factors for falls, particularly any difficulty in balance and walking ability.

So what is the right exercise?

Specific types of exercise are important for improving bone strength.

  • Weight-bearing exercise (exercise done while on your feet so you bear your own weight).
  • Progressive resistance training (becomes more challenging over time). 

To find out the recommended exercise for different stages in life, CLICK HERE. 

Balance exercises,  preventing falls and osteoporosis

Balance and mobility exercises do not improve bone or muscle strength but can help reduce falls. Exercises that assist with balance include standing on one leg (increasing to standing on one leg with eyes closed), heel-to-toe walking and tai chi.

Falls are a common cause of fracture. For people with osteoporosis, even a minor fall can cause a fracture. Half of all falls occur around the home and approximately one-third of people over 65 fall each year. It is estimated that around 6% of falls result in a fracture so preventing falls has become an important part of managing bone health. Falls are most commonly caused by:

 Poor muscle strength

  •  Problems with balance (weak muscles, low blood pressure, inner ear problems, some medicines, poor nutrition)
  •  Poor vision
  •  Home hazards that cause tripping

If you are at all worried about your bone density or would like advice on how to present osteoporosis, we suggest you visit your GP. 

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