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Healthy Old Bones – best advice to manage Arthritis and Osteoporosis

Healthy Old Bones – best advice to manage Arthritis and Osteoporosis

Aches and pains are a boring part of ageing. Arthritis and osteopororis can diminish quality of life significantly and be very painful. So often people believe that once they’ve got one, other or both of these there’s nothing they can do, but there are plenty of self-help tips which can improve these conditions. We’ve developed this guide as the best advice for keeping arthritis and osteoparosis at bay.

Osteoarthritis affects millions
managing arthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of pain in this country and it affects over 9 million people. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, which is an auto-immune disease, osteoarthritis is caused by a loss of cartilage – the protective surface over the ends of bones – particularly on the fingers, knees, toes, hips, base of thumb and spine.

Most common in the over 50s, the level of severity ranges from mild to moderate pain to being crippling. Rheumatology consultants encourage self-help to prevent patients having to have joint replacements or take strong drugs such as steroids.

Losing weight eases burden on joints

Being overweight puts enormous pressure on the joints, particularly the hips, knees and ankles, so where appropriate rheumatology consultants insist that patients attempt to lose weight before other treatments are offered. This approach has worked for many patients who have found that levels of pain and inflammation reduce as they shed pounds, making surgery and drugs unnecessary.

Exercise to build up muscle
bone health for elderly

Exercise is encouraged which will improve the strength of muscles around the joints, making them more protective.  Muscle-strengthening exercise:

  • Cycling –  builds up muscle in the hamstrings. Exercise bikes at home are a good option and take away the dependency on good weather and the hazards of busy roads.
  • Swimming is a non weight-bearing exercise that also builds up muscle.
  • Hydrotherapy is provided in some NHS hospitals (and private hospitals). Exercising in the warm water is both soothing to pain and inflammation and it improves muscle strength.
  • Yoga and Pilates
  • Tai chi – good for exercising all muscles and improving balance.
  • Walking – just half an hour a day is good for muscles.
Exercise for the less mobile

For those who are not very mobile, yoga and exercise class teachers may offer special classes for the elderly and/or immobile including chair yoga.  Senior exercises classes are often available in rest/nursing homes, day centres for the elderly, and arthritis groups.

Check out:  Arthritis Care local groups:

Find out more about The British Wheel of Yoga’s Gentle Years:

GPs or health trusts can  also provide information about local classes.

Foods that make inflammation worse
elderly care services

Foods are either alkaline or acidic, and the majority of meats, eggs and cheeses are fairly acidic which causes inflammation in the body. It is a good idea to try and cut down on these foods if osteoarthritis is a big problem.

Highly acidic foods:
  • Tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines, peppersall in the ‘nightshade’ family
  • Citrus fruit – lemons, oranges, grapefruits and limes
  • Red wine
  • Red meat 

Doctors don’t give much advice on diet, so it may be a good idea to try and cut out foods that are regularly eaten and could be causing arthritis to flare up.

Check for patterns to see what could have triggered a flare up. Of course for anyone who loves a glass of wine or tomatoes it can feel a bit miserable to stop having them. So why not try cutting them out for a week and seeing if the arthritis improves? If it does, the ‘forbidden’ foods can be had occasionally as a special treat.

 More details about dietary factors are included in the book: Say No to Arthritis, Patrick Holford, published by Piatkus.

 Foods that are good for joints

The opposite to acidic foods are alkaline foods. When a diet contains a majority of alkaline foods, inflammation and pain can be reduced.

Supplements to ease arthritis symptoms

There are many supplements that people take for osteoarthritis. Some people swear by one of these, and others choose a different one. It really comes down to trial and error to find out which one is most effective.

  • Turmeric
  • Glucosamine
  • MSM
  • Chondoitrin
  • Rosehip
  • Vitamin D

To find out more about these supplements, go to Vitamins and other supplements link at the bottom of this page.

 Arthritis Care,  Free helpline: 0808 800 4050. UK charity providing services and support for people with arthritis.  Branches and groups all over the country meet regularly for talks and outings.


Osteoporosis affects two million people (mostly women) in the UK, with the majority in their 80s. Bones become porous and full of holes and bone mass is reduced. Despite the numbers there is no routine scanning available on the NHS, unless you have many several of these risk factors which are:

  • Family history of the disease.
  • History of eating disorders.
  • Early menopause.
  • Irregular periods in the past.
  • Calcium and Vitamin D deficiency. Link to Vitamins and Supplements.
  • Overuse of some pharmaceutical drugs, such as steroids.
  • Lack of exercise.
  • Too much alcohol, fizzy drinks, and/or caffeine.
  • Smoking cigarettes.
  • Low body weight.
  • Certain medical conditions – rheumatoid arthritis, hyperthyroidism and Crohn’s disease
Recognising osteoporosis

You may notice that your relative’s back has become curved and that they appear to have lost height. Another indication of  osteoporosis is severe back pain, but there are so many reasons for this that the best course of action is to consult a GP.

Women are more at risk

Women are more at risk than men because the hormone, oestrogen,  protects from the disease but during the menopause its production steadily declines. As a bone density scan is not routinely offered, many women do not know that they have osteoporosis until they fracture a bone.   Private bone density scans are available for those who are concerned and can’t get one on the NHS.

Weight bearing exercise to increase bone density

Weight-bearing exercise helps to increase bone density, so unlike for osteoarthritis, swimming is not effective for osteoporosis.

Exercise to increase bone density
  • Walking
  • Running
  • Bouncing (on a trampoline)
  • Skipping
  • Dancing
  • Tennis
  • Yoga and Pilates
  • T’ai chi – particularly beneficial in improving balance so that the incidence of falls is reduced. Recommended by the British Geriatric Society (

All of this exercise (except T’ai chi) is unsuitable for those with mobility issues.  AS mentioned before, exercises for the less mobile is often locally available.

The National Osteoporosis Society is a charity which offers membership to anyone affected by the disease.   The website provides a wide range of information about osteoporosis:   0800 800 0035

Foods that are good for bones
nutrition for healthy bones in the elderly

Asian women have a much lower incidence of osteoporosis and they eat a lot of soya.  Here is a short list of good foods to try.

  • Fruit and vegetables – but not spinach and rhubarb which block calcium absorption.
  • Soya, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, garlic, sunflower, sesame seeds, linseeds, soya – all isoflavones.
  • Wholegrains – brown rice, brown bread, oats, barley.
  • Sprouting vegetables such as alfafa (available in the supermarket).
  • Calcium rich foods such as dairy foods or soya as an alternative, broccoli, tofu, brown rice, wholemeal flour, fish – haddock, cod, trout.

Check out:  BDA, the Association of British Dietitians, Food Face Sheet, Calcium:

To find out more read Osteoporosis the Silent Epidemic, by Marilyn Glenville, PhD.

Frances Ive is a health writer and author who has had over 100 articles published in national newspapers and consumer magazines. She is a member of The Guild of Health Writers.