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The Frame Game

Jean Hailes: The Frame Game

Our musculoskeletal system allows our bodies to move. It is made up of the muscles (muscular) and bones (skeletal). This vital collection of muscles, cartilage, tendons, bones, ligaments and joints provides support, stability and our overall shape.

Sometimes things go wrong with our musculoskeletal system or “frame”. Osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and the loss of muscle mass are all associated with different parts of your frame but they all affect the strength of your musculoskeletal system.


A loss of muscle mass is common after prolonged illness, injury or inactivity. This can have severe outcomes such as physical disability, loss of independence and a poor quality of life. Age-related loss of muscle mass is most commonly associated with a lack of physical activity and poor nutrition.


Osteoarthritis is a condition that affects the whole joint – including the bone, the cartilage, the ligaments and the muscles – and can include swelling of the tissue around the joint as well as deterioration of the ligaments in the joint. Research shows that the risk of developing osteoarthritis increases if you have a family history of the condition or if you are overweight.


Osteoporosis is a loss of bone strength, making bones more fragile and prone to fracture. There are a range of factors that contribute to the loss of bone strength, including some types of medication and particular illnesses, however, the hormonal changes that come with menopause can also affect the strength and density of women’s bones. A family history of osteoporosis can also contribute to your likelihood of weak bones as you age.

Keeping your frame strong

What can you do to help keep your frame healthy and strong? Jean Hailes endocrinologist Dr Sonia Davison says, “Things that can contribute to bone density loss may include lack of weight-bearing exercise, low vitamin D, low calcium intake, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, caffeine excess and being underweight”.

The good thing is that there are a number of things that you can do to help keep your frame strong as you age and choosing the right foods can have an impact on the health of your frame. The three food groups that contribute to strong bones and muscles are calcium, vitamin D and protein. Yoghurt, almonds and tinned sardines are all excellent sources of calcium. Small amounts of vitamin D are found in foods like some mushrooms, fish and egg yolks. Including sources of protein – like tuna, chicken, or soy beans – is essential as protein is the building block of healthy bones and strong muscles.

Nutrition can also help to alleviate some of the symptoms of arthritis. When it comes to your joints, "A diet rich in fatty fish, dark leafy greens, whole grains and whole soy (such as tofu and tempeh) may help to relieve the inflammation that is associated with arthritis" says Jean Hailes naturopath, Jess Gleeson.

Leading an active lifestyle can reduce your likelihood of developing osteoporosis, arthritis or losing muscle mass. Weight bearing exercise, such as walking, jogging or dancing, is great for strengthening bones and muscles. Just make sure that you don’t do anything that might impact any other conditions or injuries. It is just as important to build your muscle mass by doing some strength training; use weights or your own body (for example, push ups) to increase your muscle mass.

Weight bearing, strength training exercises and stretching to keep you flexible, just two to three times a week, can help to keep your frame healthy.

If you are starting a new exercise program, it is a good idea to speak with your doctor before you start. For more information about incorporating strength training into your routine, visit the Living Longer Living Stronger website – lllswa.org.au.

Published with the permission of Jean Hailes for Women's Health

1800 JEAN HAILES (532 642)

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