Dairy Health Benefits

Bone Health

Most people don’t think about their bones until they have a fracture or until they reach older age. But bones are your body’s foundation, providing support and structure and giving protection to our organs. Healthy, strong bones are key to leading long, healthy, active and independent lives.

Bones are living tissue, constantly in a state of renewal, so building and maintaining bones is a lifelong matter. The key ingredients for strong bones for life include weight bearing exercise, calcium-rich foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt and vitamin D from safe sun exposure, foods or a supplement.

Not looking after your bones can increase your risk of osteoporosis, a disease where bones become brittle and are at high risk of fracture. In Australia, osteoporosis affects one in two women and one in three men over the age of 60 years.

Your genes and lifestyle impact how strong your bones are. While you can’t change the genes your parents gave you, you can adopt a ‘bone-friendly’ lifestyle no matter how old you are.

Find out more in our Osteoporosis fact sheet.

Childhood

Our greatest window of opportunity to build bone strength and ultimately reduce the risk of osteoporosis is during childhood. Along with the rest of their body, children’s bones are growing rapidly throughout this period of their life. It is critical that your children receive enough daily calcium to ensure their bones achieve their maximum strength.

Despite the importance of calcium, surprisingly it is the nutrient that Aussie kids most commonly miss out on, with more than half of 9-16 year olds not getting their recommended amount. But you can help them get the calcium they need by ensuring they get their recommended serves of calcium-rich dairy foods every day.

Find out how much dairy foods your child needs.


Teenagers

The teenage years are also a massive growth period. Over roughly two years (12-14 for girls and 13-15 for boys) teens' bodies build one-quarter of their adult bone mass. So it's a critical time for teenagers to do plenty of exercise, have plenty of milk, cheese and yogurt and stockpile their bones with calcium.

Between the ages of 12-18 years calcium requirements increase. As such, teens actually need 3.5 serves from the dairy foods group each day. A serve from the dairy foods group is a cup (250ml) of milk, three-quarters of a cup (200g) yogurt, two slices (40g) of cheese, half a cup (120g) of ricotta cheese. Fortunately, adding extra dairy daily couldn't be simpler - a cheese and ham toastie with a berry smoothie for breakfast is half way to meeting a teen's recommended dietary intake of calcium. 

Building strong bones also requires exercise. Like, muscles, bones respond to weight bearing exercise. When bones are made to bear more weight than they are used to, they develop increased strength or bone density. Weight bearing activities for teenagers can be as simple as jogging, dancing, a gym workout or playing their favourite team sport like football, soccer or netball.

Adults

By your early twenties, you have built up as much bone as you will ever have. From early adulthood, bones gradually lose bone minerals such as calcium and gradually become weaker.

During adulthood it is vital you meet your daily calcium needs to maintain your bone. If you don’t have enough calcium every day, your body will take calcium from your bones for other important functions. It’s so simple to give your body the calcium it needs by having 2.5 serves of milk, cheese, yogurt and/or alternatives. A serve from the dairy foods group is a cup (250ml) of milk, three-quarters of a cup (200g) yogurt, two slices (40g) of cheese, half a cup (120g) of ricotta cheese. 

It's important for parents to know that leading a healthy lifestyle is also the best way to teach and encourage your children to adopt good lifelong habits. In fact, research shows parents who consume more dairy foods have children who consume more dairy. So when it comes to healthy bones you can set a good example by including your favourite dairy foods every day.

Exercising regularly will help maintain bone strength plus improve muscle strength. Get into some weight bearing exercise - exercise that is done while you are on your feet like jogging, aerobics, tennis, dancing, golf or netball – mix it up. Lifting weights (resistance training) is another great way to maintain strong bones. Swimming and cycling are not weight bearing exercises but they are good for muscle strength.

Of course before starting any new exercise program check with your doctor first to make sure it is right for you. 

Seniors

Following menopause women begin to lose bone mass rapidly and by the age of 65 both men and women lose bone mass at the same rate. However the good news is there are a number of ways to slow this down with a healthy lifestyle: 

  • Eat plenty of calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese and yogurt 

  • Spend some sun-smart time outdoors to get vital vitamin D 

  • Stay healthy and exercise regularly 

To meet your calcium requirements women over 50 and men over 70 require four serves of milk, cheese, yogurt and/or alternatives. An easy way to achieve this is to include a serve at each meal and one snack. A serve from the dairy foods group is a cup (250ml) of milk, three-quarters of a cup (200g) yogurt, two slices (40g) of cheese, half a cup (120g) of ricotta cheese.

Exercising regularly will help maintain bone strength plus improve muscle strength. Good muscle strength becomes increasingly important for our bone health as we get older. Many fractures occur as the result of a fall. Exercises that focus on muscle strengthening, balance and co-ordination are recommended to help prevent falls.

Before starting any exercise regimen, you should always check with your doctor first. A physiotherapist can recommend exercises that are appropriate for you, particularly if you have suffered, or are at risk of a fracture.

Why is calcium important for bones?

Calcium is the main building block of bone. Calcium combines with other minerals (like phosphorus) to form hard crystals that give bone their strength. Because your body can’t make calcium, it must come from your diet. If you don’t eat enough calcium-rich foods, calcium will be taken from the bones to be used for other body functions, and over time bones will become weak and brittle leading to a disease called osteoporosis. This is why it is so crucial to have a daily supply of calcium-rich foods throughout life.

Milk, cheese and yogurt provide a convenient and readily absorbable source of calcium contributing around 60 per cent of the calcium in your diet. These dairy foods also contain a range of essential nutrients for bone health including protein, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc.

Find out more in our Bone Health fact sheet or visit our Healthy Bones website.

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