Bones appear to be the strongest, most solid thing in our bodies. Yet, half of all women and up to one-quarter of men age 50 and older will break a bone at some point in their lives due to osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a disease in which bone mass is lost and the bones weaken, making them more susceptible to fracture, says Susan Randall, senior director of science and education at the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
"Bones become weak and may break from a fall -- or, in serious cases, from sneezing or minor bumps," Randall says.
Our bones constantly are being broken down, and then rebuilt. During youth, this bone repair happens quickly. But with age, the process slows down, setting the stage for osteoporosis.
However, you do not have to accept weaker bones without a fight. Lifestyle choices can go a long way toward osteoporosis prevention. "Osteoporosis and the broken bones it can cause are not part of normal aging," Randall says.
Ideally, prevention of osteoporosis should begin in childhood. However, it is never too late to begin strengthening your bones, Randall says.
"The habits you adopt now can affect your bone health for the rest of your life," she says. "Now is the time to take action."
Those actions steps include:
1. Get enough calcium
This mineral keeps bones strong, yet we lose calcium each day through our skin, nails, hair, sweat and bodily waste. Dairy products and some green vegetables -- especially collard greens, broccoli rabe and kale -- are great sources of calcium.
In addition some foods, such as juices and breakfast cereals, have calcium added to them.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation's recommended daily calcium intake levels are:
- Women ages 50 and younger: 1,000 milligrams
- Women ages 51 and older: 1,200 milligrams
- Men ages 70 and younger: 1,000 milligrams
- Men ages 71 and older: 1,200 milligrams
2. Get enough vitamin D
Vitamin D protects your bones, and your body needs this vitamin to absorb calcium. Step outside to get one of the best sources of vitamin D -- the sun. Skin creates vitamin D from the sun's ultra-violet light.
However, exposure to the sun puts you at risk for developing skin cancer. So it may be better to get your vitamin D fix from foods -- especially fatty fish such as wild-caught mackerel, salmon and tuna.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation says it is difficult to get enough vitamin D through foods alone, though. So if you are staying out of the sun, you may need to take supplements.
Daily recommended levels of vitamin D for women and men are:
- Under age 50: 400-800 international units
- Age 50 and older: 800-1,000 international units
The foundation also has a web page where it lists other foods -- such as fruits and vegetables -- that contribute to healthy bones.
3. Exercise regularly
Both weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises can help strengthen your bones.
If your bones are relatively strong, consider high-impact weight-bearing exercises such as dance, aerobics, running, hiking, tennis, jumping rope and climbing stairs.
Low-impact weight-bearing exercises make more sense if your health prevents you from engaging in more strenuous efforts.
Such exercises include working out on an elliptical machine or stair-step machine, low-impact aerobics, and lifting your own body weight. Even simple movements such as rising up on your toes can help.
4. Watch what you drink
Drinking alcohol heavily is known to contribute to bone loss. Experts recommend not exceeding two to three alcoholic drinks a day. Some studies have shown that moderate amounts of alcohol consumption may be good for maintaining bone mass, but the National Osteoporosis Foundation cautions that more research is needed.
Caffeine also can be an enemy of healthy bones. Drinking more than three cups of coffee a day may hamper calcium absorption and weaken your bones. Cola consumption also has been associated with bone loss, so drink that Coke in moderation.