Bone health: Tips to keep your bones healthy

Protecting your bone health is easier than you think. Understand how diet, physical activity and other lifestyle factors can affect your bone mass.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Bones play many roles in the body — providing structure, protecting organs, anchoring muscles and storing calcium. While it's important to build strong and healthy bones during childhood and adolescence, you can take steps during adulthood to protect bone health, too.

Why is bone health important?

Your bones are continuously changing — new bone is made and old bone is broken down. When you're young, your body makes new bone faster than it breaks down old bone, and your bone mass increases. Most people reach their peak bone mass around age 30. After that, bone remodeling continues, but you lose slightly more bone mass than you gain.

How likely you are to develop osteoporosis — a condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle — depends on how much bone mass you attain by the time you reach age 30 and how rapidly you lose it after that. The higher your peak bone mass, the more bone you have "in the bank" and the less likely you are to develop osteoporosis as you age.

What affects bone health

A number of factors can affect bone health. For example:

  • The amount of calcium in your diet. A diet low in calcium contributes to diminished bone density, early bone loss and an increased risk of fractures.
  • Physical activity. People who are physically inactive have a higher risk of osteoporosis than do their more-active counterparts.
  • Tobacco and alcohol use. Research suggests that tobacco use contributes to weak bones. Similarly, regularly having more than one alcoholic drink a day for women or two alcoholic drinks a day for men may increase the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Sex. You're at greater risk of osteoporosis if you're a woman, because women have less bone tissue than do men.
  • Size. You're at risk if you are extremely thin (with a body mass index of 19 or less) or have a small body frame because you might have less bone mass to draw from as you age.
  • Age. Your bones become thinner and weaker as you age.
  • Race and family history. You're at greatest risk of osteoporosis if you're white or of Asian descent. In addition, having a parent or sibling who has osteoporosis puts you at greater risk — especially if you also have a family history of fractures.
  • Hormone levels. Too much thyroid hormone can cause bone loss. In women, bone loss increases dramatically at menopause due to dropping estrogen levels. Prolonged absence of menstruation (amenorrhea) before menopause also increases the risk of osteoporosis. In men, low testosterone levels can cause a loss of bone mass.
  • Eating disorders and other conditions. Severely restricting food intake and being underweight weakens bone in both men and women. In addition, weight-loss surgery and conditions such as celiac disease can affect your body's ability to absorb calcium.
  • Certain medications. Long-term use of corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, cortisone, prednisolone and dexamethasone, is damaging to bone. Other drugs that might increase the risk of osteoporosis include aromatase inhibitors to treat breast cancer, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, methotrexate, some anti-seizure medications, such as phenytoin (Dilantin) and phenobarbital, and proton pump inhibitors.

What can I do to keep my bones healthy?

You can take a few simple steps to prevent or slow bone loss. For example:

  • Include plenty of calcium in your diet. For adults ages 19 to 50 and men ages 51 to 70, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day. The recommendation increases to 1,200 mg a day for women age 51 and older and for men age 71 and older.

    Good sources of calcium include dairy products, almonds, broccoli, kale, canned salmon with bones, sardines and soy products, such as tofu. If you find it difficult to get enough calcium from your diet, ask your doctor about supplements.

  • Pay attention to vitamin D. Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. For adults ages 19 to 70, the RDA of vitamin D is 600 international units (IUs) a day. The recommendation increases to 800 IUs a day for adults age 71 and older.

    Good sources of vitamin D include oily fish, such as salmon, trout, whitefish and tuna. Additionally, mushrooms, eggs and fortified foods, such as milk and cereals, are good sources of vitamin D. Sunlight also contributes to the body's production of vitamin D. If you're worried about getting enough vitamin D, ask your doctor about supplements.

  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging, and climbing stairs, can help you build strong bones and slow bone loss.
  • Avoid substance abuse. Don't smoke. If you are a woman, avoid drinking more than one alcoholic drink each day. If you are a man, avoid drinking more than two alcoholic drinks a day.

Enlist your doctor's help

If you're concerned about your bone health or your risk factors for osteoporosis, including a recent bone fracture, consult your doctor. He or she might recommend a bone density test. The results will help your doctor gauge your bone density and determine your rate of bone loss. By evaluating this information and your risk factors, your doctor can assess whether you might be a candidate for medication to help slow bone loss.

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

March 06, 2021 See more In-depth

See also

  1. 3 ways to avoid secondhand smoke
  2. 7 signs and symptoms not to ignore
  3. Animal bites: Do you need a tetanus shot?
  4. Are you doing everything you can to stay healthy?
  5. Belching, intestinal gas, gas pains and bloating
  6. Cancer-prevention strategies
  7. Cellphones and cancer
  8. Colon cancer screening
  9. COVID-19: How can I protect myself?
  10. Plastic surgery
  11. Herd immunity and coronavirus
  12. Long-term effects of COVID-19
  13. COVID-19 travel advice
  14. Different COVID-19 vaccines
  15. Do adults need shots
  16. Don't save leftover pain pills
  17. Exercise: Check with your doctor
  18. Fight coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission at home
  19. Flu Shot Prevents Heart Attack
  20. Hand drying
  21. Hand-washing tips
  22. Heart attack prevention: Should I avoid secondhand smoke?
  23. Home Health Hazards
  24. Brown fat
  25. How social support spurs you
  26. How to take your pulse
  27. How to take your temperature
  28. How well do face masks protect against COVID-19?
  29. How well do you wash your hands?
  30. Injury Season for Snow Blowers
  31. Investing in yourself
  32. Is antibacterial soap a do or a don't?
  33. Keep the focus on your long-term vision
  34. Lost in Space
  35. Making progress towards your goals
  36. Mammogram guidelines: What are they?
  37. Mayo Clinic Minute: You're washing your hands all wrong
  38. Mayo Clinic Minute: How dirty are common surfaces?
  39. Measles vaccine: Can I get the measles if I've already been vaccinated?
  40. Infographic: Organ Donation Donate Life
  41. Infographic: Paired Donation Chain
  42. Infographic: Pancreas Kidney Transplant
  43. Personal health records
  44. Personalize your wellness journey
  45. Posture check: Do you stand up straight?
  46. Safe outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic
  47. Sitting risks: How harmful is too much sitting?
  48. Good posture tips
  49. Back exercises
  50. Proper lifting techniques
  51. Travel Safety
  52. Using if-then statements
  53. Vaccines for adults
  54. What are superbugs?
  55. What are superbugs and how can I protect myself from infection?
  56. What is thirdhand smoke, and why is it a concern?
  57. Air purifiers and smoke