Although most osteoporosis risk factors like age and health history cannot be controlled, there are steps you can take to help prevent or at least slow down bone loss. Changes in diet and exercise can increase your calcium levels and help maintain the bone mass already in place.
Anyone at risk for osteoporosis should monitor their calcium and vitamin D intake. Calcium helps build and maintain bone and vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. You can get calcium from foods, supplements, or a combination of the two.
If you use supplements, keep in mind that calcium is best absorbed in individual doses no larger than 500 to 600 milligrams (mg). It’s best for adults to take doses twice or three times per day. See the chart below for recommendations from the National Institutes of Health regarding daily calcium and vitamin intake. (Note: “IU” refers to international units.)
|0 to 6 months||210 mg||200 IU|
|7 to 12 months||270 mg||200 IU|
|1 to 3 years||500 mg||200 IU|
|4 to 8 years||800 mg||200 IU|
|9 to 18 years||1,300 mg||200 IU|
|19 to 50 years||1,000 mg||200 IU|
|51 to 70 years||1,200 mg||400 IU|
|Over 70 years||1,200 mg||600 IU|
There are also many excellent dietary sources of calcium and vitamin D:
- dairy: Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt are rich in calcium and vitamin D.
- fortified foods: Certain common foods and beverages are often fortified with calcium and vitamin D. They include certain brands of breakfast cereals, juice, and bread. Check the label to see if these nutrients have been added.
- leafy green vegetables: Kale, broccoli, okra, collard greens, mustard greens, Chinese cabbage, and turnip greens all contain calcium.
Bones need resistance to grow strong, which is why weight-bearing exercises are not only good for your muscles, but also your bones. Activities and fitness equipment that help strengthen bone include:
- free weights
- weight machines
- resistance bands, which you can use at the gym, at home, and while traveling
- walking or jogging
- low-impact aerobics (elliptical training, swimming, or biking)
Both excessive intake of alcohol and smoking increase your risk of osteoporosis. It’s best to limit alcohol consumption to two drinks per day. A 6-ounce glass of wine, 12-ounce bottle of beer, or a 1.5-ounce glass of hard liquor are all considered one standard drink. If you are a smoker, get some assistance to kick the habit as soon as possible. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, old adults who smoke are 30 to 40 percent more likely to break their hips.
If you already have osteoporosis, take the above preventive measures and try to avoid unnecessary risks of fractures. Hire someone to clean the house gutters so you won’t risk falling from a ladder. Clear the pathways through your home to eliminate any tripping hazards. Be wary of slippery steps and walkways. And use a cane or walker if you feel it would keep you safer. You can check the National Osteoporosis Foundation for gentle sitting, turning, and standing postures that can protect your hips and spine. The site is also a good source for finding bone-friendly exercise activities.