Osteoporosis prevention strategies can help slow down bone loss and reduce your risk of debilitating fractures.

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Osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weak, fragile bones, is very common in older adults — but it’s not inevitable. There are a number of things you can do today to help prevent osteoporosis. From calcium supplements to exercises, this article will cover strategies you can put into practice today. It’s never too early, or too late, to start supporting your bone health.

Osteoporosis is a condition that causes your bones to become weaker than they used to be. As your bones lose density and become more fragile, your risk of fractures increases. Osteoporosis often leads to fractures in your wrists, spine, and hips.

Bone loss happens because your bones are in a constant state of remodeling. Throughout your life, your body removes older, damaged bone and replaces it with new bone. As you get older, your body starts losing bone faster than it can make new bone.

Did you know?

The term osteoporosis means porous bone.

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As bones lose density and become more porous, it becomes harder for them to maintain their shape and structure.

Osteoporosis is a “silent” condition that doesn’t cause any symptoms. You may not know you have it until you break a bone. Early intervention can prevent or minimize the chances of this happening.

Osteoporosis is more common in women than men. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of all adults over age 50 already have osteoporosis or are at increased risk of it.

The primary risk factor for osteoporosis is advancing age. But there are a few other things that can further increase your risk. These include:

  • sex: postmenopausal people are at the highest risk
  • body size: people who have a small frame
  • race: white and Asian women have the greatest risk
  • family history: if a parent has osteoporosis
  • hormones: low levels of estrogen or testosterone
  • diet: deficient in calcium and vitamin D, excessive dieting, or poor protein intake
  • certain medical conditions: endocrine and hormonal diseases, conditions that affect the absorption of nutrients, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, anorexia, and HIV
  • certain medications: long-term medication use, including some antidepressants, cancer medications, proton pump inhibitors, and more
  • lifestyle factors: like alcohol abuse, low levels of physical activity, and smoking

Taking steps to limit or reduce these risks can help prevent osteoporosis. The following tips can help you maintain bone strength and prevent osteoporosis.

Consuming enough calcium is crucial for preventing osteoporosis. Calcium is stored in your bones. If you don’t consume enough calcium, your body will take it from your bones, weakening them in the process.

The recommended daily intake of calcium for adults is:

19–50 years1000 milligrams (mg)1000 mg
51–70 years1000 mg1200 mg
70+ years1200 mg1200 mg

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Sources of calcium

Dietary sources of calcium include:

  • low fat dairy
  • dark green leafy vegetables
  • broccoli
  • sardines
  • salmon with bones
  • calcium-fortified foods like soymilk, tofu, orange juice, cereal, and bread

A calcium supplement may be a good idea if you cannot consume enough calcium through your regular diet. This can be a particular challenge for people who are lactose intolerant or vegan, as well as people whose bodies don’t absorb nutrients well, like those who have had bariatric surgery.

Talk with a doctor about whether calcium supplements are right for you.

Exercise impacts bone strength and bone mass throughout all stages of life. According to one study published in 2021, high and low impact weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises are the best defense against osteoporosis. These include:

  • high impact exercises
    • jogging
    • aerobics classes
    • dancing
    • hiking
  • low impact exercises
    • fast walking
    • low impact aerobics
    • using an elliptical machine
    • using a step-stair machine
  • muscle strengthening
    • weightlifting
    • using elastic exercise bands
    • using weight machines
    • bodyweight exercises

According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, higher protein intake is associated with higher bone density, a slower rate of bone loss, and a reduced risk of hip fracture (as long as you get enough calcium). Older adults with inadequate protein intake are at greater risk of muscle weakness, frailty, and falling.

For optimal bone health, try to incorporate lots of lean proteins. These options include:

  • lean beef
  • poultry
  • low fat dairy
  • fish
  • legumes
  • soy products
  • eggs
  • grains, nuts, seeds

The body absorbs vitamin D through food and exposure to sunlight. Only a few foods contain vitamin D, so the body gets 70% to 80% of its required intake from sunlight.

The amount of time you spend indoors, where you live, and what season it is can all affect how much vitamin D you absorb.

Dietary sources of vitamin D include:

  • milk and plant milks
  • cereal
  • orange juice
  • yogurt
  • fatty fish
  • egg yolks
  • cheese
  • mushrooms

Alcohol affects the balance of calcium in your body, which impacts the health of your bones. Alcohol can also impair your body’s ability to produce vitamin D when you’re exposed to sunlight.

Heavy drinking can create hormone deficiencies that can increase your risk of osteoporosis. Intoxication also leads to an increased risk of falls and fractures.

The CDC recommends limiting alcohol consumption to two drinks per day for men, one drink or less per day for women, or abstaining completely.

People who are overweight or obese have an increased risk of osteoporosis. Your body mass index (BMI), which is a calculation based on your height and weight, is linked to your risk of osteoporosis.

A 2020 study that involved 3,774 men over age 50 and 4,982 postmenopausal women, found that the ideal BMI to reduce your risk of osteoporosis is 23.0 to 24.9 kg/m. A BMI of 25 or more is considered overweight.

Smoking is a risk factor for osteoporosis. Studies have found a direct connection between tobacco use and the loss of bone density. People who smoke also tend to have other risk factors for osteoporosis, including alcohol use, poor diet, and less physical activity. Women who smoke may also experience earlier menopause, which affects bone health.

Smoking may also increase your risk of fractures. And it has been shown to negatively affect healing after a fracture.

Osteoporosis causes bones to weaken and become frail. Bones lose density, making them more brittle and prone to fractures.

Osteoporosis often occurs with age, but diet and lifestyle factors also play a role. For bone health, eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, do weight-bearing exercises, drink in moderation, and don’t smoke.