Harrington: ‘As you get older you need to be conscious of your bones’

The National Dairy Council (NDC), in association with Cappagh Hospital Foundation, has teamed up with leading racehorse trainer Jessica Harrington to raise awareness about bone health ahead of World Osteoporosis Day next Tuesday (October 20).

The most common bone condition in Ireland is osteoporosis, with approximately 300,000 people over 50 years estimated to have the condition.

However, it is often referred to as a ‘silent disease’ as it can go unnoticed, without symptoms, until a fracture occurs. In fact, only about 15% of people with osteoporosis get diagnosed.

Jessica Harrington is one of the world’s leading horse trainers and the most successful female trainer ever at Cheltenham.

Before becoming a horse trainer, she represented Ireland on the world stage as a three-day event rider.

Jessica is 73 and leads a very active lifestyle, as well as consuming a balanced diet, which includes a variety of fruit and vegetables and incorporates her recommended three servings from the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group each day.

“I have always lived a very active life through working with horses and training all my life, so I am in good shape for a 73-year-old woman,” she says.

As you get older you need to be conscious of your bones and the risk of fractures becomes more paramount.

“There are certain nutrients which play specific roles in the health of our bones, including calcium, protein, phosphorus and vitamin D.

“Dairy foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese provide many of these key nutrients [calcium, protein, phosphorous – and vitamin D in fortified dairy products].

“As well as a ‘bone-friendly’ diet, I keep fit with weight-bearing, resistance-style exercises which are particularly important for bone and muscle health. I get a lot of brisk walking in around the racetracks and my grounds every day, so it keeps me very active,” the trainer added.


Although women are more likely to develop osteoporosis, it also affects men and even children. Osteoporosis is more common in white or Asian women older than 50 years-of-age, but osteoporosis can occur in almost any person at any age.

While our bone health and strength are determined to a large extent by factors outside of our control such as genetics, gender and age; there are factors that we can control such as our diet and physical activity.

To coincide with the campaign there is a comprehensive website at: www.mindyourbones.ie which includes useful information on bones and the musculoskeletal system, as well as details on other common bone conditions.

It also includes advice from surgeons at Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital, including a few tips listed below.

Top tips throughout life:
  • Maintain a healthy body weight: Being either underweight or overweight can have a negative impact on musculoskeletal health. Being very thin or losing weight quickly can result in a low muscle mass. Alternatively, being overweight increases pressure on joints such as the knees, hips and back;
  • Good nutrition: A balanced diet which provides adequate nutrients, including calcium, protein, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D, are essential for musculoskeletal health;
  • Stay strong: Weight-bearing, resistance-style exercises are particularly important for bone and muscle health – these include activities where your body must work against a force, such as gravity. Examples include skipping, running, tennis, dancing, brisk hill walking or simply climbing stairs;
  • Stretching: Exercises such as stretching, pilates or yoga can be particularly beneficial for posture and supple joints. Stronger core muscles (abdominals and back) improve balance, helping to prevent falls;
  • Smoking and alcohol: Refrain from smoking and, if you consume alcohol, do so in moderation;
  • If concerned, speak to your healthcare practitioner.

James Cashman, orthopaedic surgeon at the National Orthopaedic Hospital Cappagh, said:

“To maintain bone health, it is critical to engage in weight-bearing exercise, in order to stimulate good bone formation in our younger years; and for maintaining a healthy bone mineral density into our later years.

Good nutrition is also essential to provide the building blocks needed for optimal bone health.

“The inclusion of dairy foods as part of a bone-friendly lifestyle is recognised by leading osteoporosis authorities both nationally and internationally,” he added.