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.
  • Gender. 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. People who have anorexia or bulimia are at risk of bone loss. In addition, stomach surgery (gastrectomy), weight-loss surgery, and conditions such as Crohn's disease, celiac disease and Cushing's 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 after age 50 and for men after age 70.

    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.

March 09, 2019 See more In-depth

See also

  1. 3 ways to get closer to achieving your goals
  2. Make healthy habits stick
  3. 5 do's and don'ts for staying motivated
  4. 3 ways to avoid secondhand smoke
  5. 7 signs and symptoms not to ignore
  6. Energy management
  7. Animal bites: Do you need a tetanus shot?
  8. Are you doing everything you can to stay healthy?
  9. Belching, intestinal gas, gas pains and bloating
  10. Can COVID-19 (coronavirus) spread through food, water, surfaces and pets?
  11. Cancer-prevention strategies
  12. Cellphones and cancer
  13. Colon cancer screening
  14. Coronavirus safety tips for going out
  15. Coronavirus: What is it and how can I protect myself?
  16. Coronavirus travel advice
  17. Plastic surgery
  18. Herd immunity and coronavirus
  19. COVID-19 (coronavirus): Quarantine, self-isolation and social distancing
  20. COVID-19: How much protection do face masks offer?
  21. Do adults need shots?
  22. Don't save leftover pain pills
  23. Exercise: Check with your doctor
  24. Find meaning in the small things
  25. Flu Shot Prevents Heart Attack
  26. Functional fitness training
  27. Overcome obstacles to your goals
  28. Healthy holiday habits: How to get back on track
  29. Hand drying
  30. Hand-washing tips
  31. Healthy habits that boost happiness
  32. Healthy heart for life: Avoiding heart disease
  33. Heart attack prevention: Should I avoid secondhand smoke?
  34. Home Health Hazards
  35. Brown fat
  36. How social support spurs you
  37. Break the busy cycle
  38. How to take your pulse
  39. How to safely go to your doctor during the COVID-19 pandemic
  40. How to take your temperature
  41. How well do you wash your hands?
  42. Injury Season for Snow Blowers
  43. Investing in yourself
  44. Is antibacterial soap a do or a don't?
  45. Keep the focus on your long-term vision
  46. Liposuction alternatives
  47. Lost in Space
  48. Making progress towards your goals
  49. Mammogram guidelines: What are they?
  50. Make over your mindset to make time for your health
  51. Mayo Clinic Minute: You're washing your hands all wrong
  52. Mayo Clinic Minute: How dirty are common surfaces?
  53. Measles vaccine: Can I get the measles if I've already been vaccinated?
  54. Medical family tree
  55. Infographic: Organ Donation Donate Life
  56. Infographic: Paired Donation Chain
  57. Infographic: Pancreas Kidney Transplant
  58. Personal health records
  59. Personalize your wellness journey
  60. Stick to healthy-eating goals at social gatherings
  61. Posture: Align yourself for good health
  62. Posture check: Do you stand up straight?
  63. Reach your goals, track your habits
  64. New Year's resolutions
  65. Safe outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic
  66. Secondhand smoke
  67. Creating a wellness vision
  68. Sitting risks: How harmful is too much sitting?
  69. Good posture tips
  70. Back exercises
  71. Proper lifting techniques
  72. Stay healthy during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic
  73. Stop multitasking and focus
  74. Telemedicine online doctor visits
  75. Thirdhand smoke: What are the dangers?
  76. Want good health? Build a solid base
  77. The benefits of gratitude
  78. Video: Travel safely for medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic
  79. Travel Safety
  80. Triclosan
  81. Using if-then statements
  82. Vaccines for adults
  83. Fight coronavirus transmission at home
  84. What are superbugs?
  85. What are superbugs and how can I protect myself from infection?
  86. Air purifiers and smoke