The bones in your body help with nearly every movement — from walking, dancing, sitting, or typing — your bones are hard at work. But as we age, our bones can become weaker and more at risk for fractures.
With over 8.9 million fractures occurring every year (that’s one fracture every three seconds!) maintaining bone health is key to keeping you mobile throughout your life. Luckily, there are several ways you can improve your bone health. There are bone health supplements, bone health foods, and lifestyle changes that can strengthen your bones.
We’ve found 13 ways to improve your bone health (because there’s a lot more you can do other than take calcium). Read on to discover some of our favorite bone health tips!
Osteoporosis and Bone Health
Osteoporosis is a condition where someone has weak and brittle bones. Having osteoporosis increases your risk of fracture, especially wrist and hip fractures. A person’s risk for developing osteoporosis depends on several factors including:
- Age: Your bones become weaker as you age
- Gender: Women have a higher risk of bone density loss than men
- Early menopause (before 50 years old)
- Being very thin or having a ‘small frame’
- Family history of osteoporosis
- White or Asian descent
- Lifestyle factors including smoking, excessive alcohol use, lack of physical activity
Even if you have a few of these risk factors, it doesn’t mean you’ll develop osteoporosis. There are several ways you can improve your bone health and density (how strong your bones are) to reduce your risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
13 Ways to Improve Bone Health
Your bones are made of minerals with calcium being the most popular one. Calcium gives your bones structure and strength, making it important to bone health.
As your body breaks down old bone tissue and builds new tissue, it needs calcium to keep them strong.
Calcium is in many foods including dairy products, kale, salmon, soy products (like tofu), and almonds. You can also take over-the-counter calcium supplements.
Too much calcium can also be a problem. Having too much calcium can cause issues including kidney stones and interfere with the electrical impulses in your heart and brain. This usually happens with taking too many calcium supplements rather than only eating calcium-rich foods.
If you’re considering adding a calcium supplement, talk with your healthcare provider first. They can do a lab test to see if your calcium levels are normal or low and then give you advice on how much to take each day.
2. Vitamin D
Like calcium, your body relies on vitamin D to maintain bone health. Vitamin D is often thought of as the key to getting calcium into your bones (this is why many calcium supplements have vitamin D in them as well).
The number one source of vitamin D is exposure to the sun. But with skin cancer awareness, more folks are wearing sunscreen and protecting themselves from harmful UV rays which means more people have low vitamin D levels.
You can increase your vitamin D through your diet and with supplements. Vitamin D rich foods include egg yolks, fish, and milk.
3. Vitamin K
Vitamin K is another key element to keeping your bones healthy. Vitamin K has been shown to improve bone mineral density in people with osteoporosis and even reduce fracture risk. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, collard greens, and kale are high in vitamin K. Soybean and canola oil also have high vitamin K levels.
Before you start eating extra vitamin K rich foods, talk with your healthcare provider because many medications can be affected by sudden changes in vitamin K levels.
4. Eat Lots of Veggies
Many vegetables are high in the vitamins and minerals needed to keep your bones healthy. Vegetables not only restore these minerals, but studies show a diet high in veggies can slow down how quickly your bones break down.*
Although all vegetables can have a positive impact on your health, vegetables known to reduce how quickly your bones break down include green beans, cucumber, lettuce, and broccoli.
5. Don’t Forget Protein
If you’re looking to increase bone health foods in your diet, don’t forget your protein. Studies show a diet rich in protein helps keep your bones dense and strong. And like vitamin D, a diet rich in protein helps calcium get into your bones and stay there.
Meats like chicken, fish, pork, and beef are all high in protein. If you’re looking for plant-based protein sources you can try adding beans, nuts, seeds, and soy products to your diet.
6. Strength Training
Like your muscles, your bones can grow and respond to exercise. People who exercise regularly, especially if they do weight lifting exercises, have greater bone density compared to those who don’t.
Lifting weights can seem intimidating and complicated, but there are simple exercises you can do to improve your bone health. By picking up a pair of dumbbells or using weight machines at your gym, you can improve your bone health and reduce your risk of fractures.
7. Weight Bearing Cardio
If weight-lifting isn’t something you feel comfortable trying, there are other ways physical activity can improve bone health. Exercise that is weight-bearing — meaning you have to work against gravity — helps build and maintain strong bones.
Running, hiking, playing tennis or pickleball are all examples of weight-bearing exercises. While bike-riding and swimming are great for building muscles, it doesn’t have the same benefits for your bones.
8. Don’t Smoke
It’s still unclear how cigarette smoking does this, but there is a clear connection between smoking and decreased bone density. People who smoke cigarettes have a higher risk of bone fractures and have a harder time with bone healing after a fracture.
If you currently smoke, quitting will help improve your bone health. You can talk to your healthcare provider about ways to stop smoking if you need help.
9. Maintain A Healthy Body Weight
While many people spend their lives focusing on losing weight, as we age having a low body mass index (BMI) can reduce your bone density. Usually due to muscle mass loss, older folk tend to lose weight even if they’re not trying.
A weight loss of as little as 5% of your body weight can contribute to bone loss and increase your risk of a bone fracture. Maintaining a healthy body weight will help keep your bones dense and strong.
10. Avoid Excessive Alcohol Use
Excessive alcohol use can disrupt your calcium balance and interfere with vitamin D production. Heavy alcohol use can also affect your hormone levels which play an important part in bone cell production and growth.
Another risk of excessive alcohol use is an increased risk for falls which increases your risk for fractures (especially hip fractures). Avoiding excessive alcohol can improve how well your bones grow and stay strong — and reduce your risk of falls.
11. Avoid Medications That Cause Bone Loss (if you can)
There are certain medications that cause bone loss. The most common ones are high doses of steroids, high doses of thyroid medications, drugs that reduce hormone levels, and certain acid reflux medications.
While not all medications can be avoided, it’s important to know which ones contribute to bone loss so you can limit your time taking them or take extra steps to protect your bones.
12. Find Out Your Bone Fracture Risk
Knowledge is power and your bone health is no exception. The most commonly used test to check your bone health is a bone density test. This is also called bone densitometry and is usually abbreviated as a DXA or DEXA scan.
A bone density test is a noninvasive test used to measure the minerals in your bones. DXA scans take less than ten minutes to complete and are painless. The procedure is very similar to having an X-ray.
The results from your bone density test show how resistant your bones are to fractures and can measure your risk for developing osteopenia or osteoporosis. Bone density tests are recommended for women greater than 65 years old or people with several risk factors for osteoporosis.
13. Talk to Your Healthcare Provider
If you have concerns about your bone health or want to learn more about your specific risks and what you can do to increase bone density, talking to your healthcare provider is a great place to start.
There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to bone health and working with your healthcare team can help you come up with a personalized plan for your bone health. They can check your risk factors and determine if you need to have any lab tests or scans.
It’s Never Too Late to Focus On Bone Health
No matter your age or stage in life — you can still make an impact on your bone health. Reducing your risk of fractures can lead to a more mobile and fulfilling life and there are simple ways you can help your bones gain strength and density over time.