Lifestyle and Prevention

The best way to keep your bones strong is to follow a healthy lifestyle. This is good advice for everyone, of course, but especially true if you have risk factors for osteoporosis. As a start, you can take steps to reduce your risk:

  • Stop smoking.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol.
  • Get enough calcium and vitamin D through your diet or with supplements.
  • Do weight-bearing exercises, such as walking or climbing stairs, to help keep bones strong.
  • If you take high doses of thyroid hormone or cortisone-like medications, work with your doctor to get the most appropriate dose to treat your condition.

Diet and Exercise Make a Difference

Calcium

Diet makes a difference in preventing osteoporosis. Calcium, the main element needed to keep your bones strong and healthy, is found mainly in dairy products.

On average, people get 500 mg to 600 mg of calcium in their diet, mainly from dairy products. Unfortunately, that is not enough to meet our needs.

National Osteoporosis Foundation Recommended Daily Intake of Vitamin D and Calcium for Adults

Vitamin D

Calcium

Under age 50

400 to 800 International Units (IU)

At least 1,000 milligrams (mg)

Over age 50

800 to 1,000 IU

At least 1,200 mg

To get the calcium you need to keep your bones healthy, you should eat three to four servings of dairy foods daily. Great sources of calcium include milk, yogurt, and cheese. Other sources of calcium include some green vegetables such as broccoli and kale.

If you cannot get enough calcium from food alone, you may need to take calcium supplements. Likewise, if you are lactose intolerant or limit dairy foods in your diet for other reasons, you can supplement your diet with calcium tablets.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and has other health benefits as well.  Fortified milk, egg yolks, liver, saltwater fish, and fish oils are among the few foods that contain vitamin D.

Sunlight on your skin activates vitamin D production in your body, but many people do not get enough sun to make enough vitamin D. While most people need at least 1,000 IU of vitamin D each day, many men and women need even higher doses.  You may want to have your doctor do a blood test to see if you are getting enough vitamin D and advise you on how to increase your intake if necessary.

Exercise

Exercise is the other important key to keeping your bones healthy. Exercise improves strength and balance, which may decrease the risk of falling. Before beginning any new physical activities, however, check with your doctor. A 55-year-old woman who is healthy would probably not have trouble beginning a weight-bearing regimen, but a 90-year-old woman might get a fracture doing the same type of exercise because her bones are not as strong.

Once you get your doctor's okay, try walking more and climbing stairs, or jogging and playing racquet sports. Weight-bearing and strength-training exercise can help you stay fit and may lower the risk of fractures. Bones remain stronger if they are used in daily weight-bearing activities such as walking or lifting weights. Walking at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, can reduce bone loss.

Bone loss is a natural part of aging, but there are steps you can take to stay strong during every stage of your life. A healthy lifestyle is a great place to start.

Editors:

Jens Bollerslev, MD
Rikshospitalet Medical Clinic

Steven T. Harris, MD
UC San Francisco

Dolores Shoback, MD
UC San Francisco/VA Medical Center

Last Review: May 2013