Bone health is literally something you build on throughout your life, not just as a child. And the efforts you put in now will keep bones strong and help prevent the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis later on, as you age.
Most of the 10 million Americans living with osteoporosis are women, but men are at risk, too, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. It weakens bones, leaving them at greater risk of fracture. Here are 4 steps to better bone health for women and men.
First, make sure your diet has calcium, an essential mineral, and vitamin D. These nutrients work in tandem on bone building. Low-fat dairy, such as plain yogurt and milk, is a great calcium source. Also, look for milk that’s been fortified with vitamin D. You can get some D from fatty fish, like tuna and salmon, spending limited time in the sun, and supplements.
Second, eat healthy in general. Magnesium, potassium and vitamins C and K are also important. They’re in many fruits, peppers and leafy green veggies. Get enough protein, but not too much, which could lower your calcium level. Skip soda and limit alcohol, salt and caffeine.
Third, get the types of exercise that support bone health, primarily strength-training and weight-bearing cardio activities — those that are done standing, like walking. Add workouts that help with balance, like yoga and tai chi, to improve posture and prevent falls, the key culprit in broken bones.
Finally, don’t smoke. Smoking decreases all-important bone density.
Build a strong structure
When it comes to building strong bones, there are two key nutrients: calcium and vitamin D. Calcium supports your bones and teeth structure, while vitamin D improves calcium absorption and bone growth.
These nutrients are important early in life, but they may also help as you age. If you develop osteoporosis, a disease characterized by brittle and breaking bones, getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D may slow the disease and prevent fractures.
Adults up to age 50 should get 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 200 international units (IUs) of vitamin D a day. Adults over 50 should get 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 400 to 600 IU of vitamin D. Get these nutrients by trying these 11 foods for healthy bones.
Why is bone health important?
Your bones are continuously changing — new bone is made and old bone is broken down. When you’re young, your body makes new bone faster than it breaks down old bone, and your bone mass increases. Most people reach their peak bone mass around age 30. After that, bone remodeling continues, but you lose slightly more bone mass than you gain.
How likely you are to develop osteoporosis — a condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle — depends on how much bone mass you attain by the time you reach age 30 and how rapidly you lose it after that. The higher your peak bone mass, the more bone you have “in the bank” and the less likely you are to develop osteoporosis as you age.
11 Foods for Healthy Bones
Most people get their vitamin D through exposure to sunlight, but certain foods, like yogurt, are fortified with vitamin D.
There’s a reason milk is the poster child for calcium. Eight ounces of fat-free milk will cost you 90 calories, but provide you with 30% of your daily dose of calcium. Choose a brand fortified with vitamin D to get double the benefits.
Just because cheese is full of calcium doesn’t mean you need to eat it in excess (packing on the pounds won’t help your joints!). Just 1.5 ounces (think a set of dice) of cheddar cheese contains more than 30% of your daily value of calcium, so enjoy in moderation.
These tiny fish, often found in cans, have surprisingly high levels of both vitamin D and calcium. Though they may look a bit odd, they have a savory taste that can be delicious in pastas and salads.
Though eggs only contain 6% of your daily vitamin D, they’re a quick and easy way to get it. Just don’t opt for egg whites—they may cut calories, but the vitamin D is in the yolk.
Salmon is known for having plenty of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, but a 3-ounce piece of sockeye salmon contains more than 100% of your vitamin D. So eat up for your heart and your bones.
Don’t eat dairy products? Spinach will be your new favorite way to get calcium. One cup of cooked spinach contains almost 25% of your daily calcium, plus fiber, iron, and vitamin A.
Certain cereals—like Kashi U Black Currants and Walnuts, Total Whole Grain, and Wheaties—contain up to 25% of your daily vitamin D. When you don’t have time to cook salmon or get out in the sun, cereals can be a tasty way to get your vitamin D.
Tuna, another fatty fish, is a good source of vitamin D. Three ounces of canned tuna contains 154 IU, or about 39% of your daily dose of the sunshine vitamin. Try these low-cal Tuna-Melt Tacos as a way to sneak in vitamin D and calcium.
Like spinach, this leafy green often enjoyed south of the Mason-Dixon line is full of calcium. One cup of cooked collards contains more than 25% of your daily calcium. Plus you can easily sneak it into your favorite foods, like this über-healthy frittata.
A glass of fresh-squeezed OJ doesn’t have calcium or vitamin D, but it’s often fortified to contain these nutrients. Try Tropicana’s Calcium + Vitamin D to get a boost of these essentials.
What affects bone health?
A number of factors can affect bone health. For example:
The amount of calcium in your diet. A diet low in calcium contributes to diminished bone density, early bone loss and an increased risk of fractures.
Physical activity. People who are physically inactive have a higher risk of osteoporosis than do their more-active counterparts.
Tobacco and alcohol use. Research suggests that tobacco use contributes to weak bones. Similarly, regularly having more than two alcoholic drinks a day increases the risk of osteoporosis, possibly because alcohol can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
Gender. You’re at greater risk of osteoporosis if you’re a woman, because women have less bone tissue than do men.
Size. You’re also at risk if you’re extremely thin (with a body mass index of 19 or less) or have a small body frame because you might have less bone mass to draw from as you age.
Age. Your bones become thinner and weaker as you age.
Race and family history. You’re at greatest risk of osteoporosis if you’re white or of Asian descent. In addition, having a parent or sibling who has osteoporosis puts you at greater risk — especially if you also have a family history of fractures.
Hormone levels. Too much thyroid hormone can cause bone loss. In women, bone loss increases dramatically at menopause due to dropping estrogen levels. Prolonged absence of menstruation (amenorrhea) before menopause also increases the risk of osteoporosis. In men, low testosterone levels can cause a loss of bone mass.
Eating disorders and other conditions. People who have anorexia or bulimia are at risk of bone loss. In addition, stomach surgery (gastrectomy), weight-loss surgery and conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and Cushing’s disease can affect your body’s ability to absorb calcium.
Certain medications. Long-term use of corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, cortisone, prednisolone and dexamethasone, are damaging to bone. Other drugs that might increase the risk of osteoporosis include aromatase inhibitors to treat breast cancer, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, methotrexate, some anti-seizure medications, such as phenytoin (Dilantin) and phenobarbital, and proton pump inhibitors.