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Boost Your Bones at Any Age

Diet, exercise and smart planning can give you the edge over osteoporosis

Mujer levanta una mancuerna, una forma de fortalecer tus huesos

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Weight-bearing exercises can help strengthen your bones.

En español l Strong bones don't just protect against fractures from falls. They also improve your posture, protect your internal organs and give you the strength to do the things you love, from traveling to tai chi. While most of us reach peak bone mass during our 20s, it's never too late to strengthen your structure. Here's how.

Get milk

Calcium and vitamin D help protect bones, but many Americans fall short on both nutrients. "If you're getting two to three servings of low-fat dairy every day and eating plenty of leafy greens, you should meet your calcium needs — 1,000 milligrams for men and 1,200 for women," says Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., author of the Doctor's Detox Diet. Vitamin D is more difficult to obtain from food alone, though, even if you have a stellar diet. To get the recommended 600 to 800 international units daily, look for supplements that contain vitamin D3, an active form that's more effective than its vitamin D2 counterpart.

Quick tip: Lose the cola. A study from Tufts University found that women who drink soda daily have lower bone mineral density than those who indulge only once a week. Scientists think the phosphoric acid in soda prevents calcium from being efficiently absorbed by your bones.

Get moving

Bones respond to stress by becoming denser and stronger. "The more impact on your bones, the better," says E. Michael Lewiecki, M.D., director of the New Mexico Clinical Research & Osteoporosis Center. Studies consistently show that athletes have up to 35 percent greater bone mineral content than nonathletes. Even simple activities such as walking and climbing stairs strengthen bones and muscles, improve balance and reduce your risk of falls. "Aim for at least 30 minutes of weight-bearing activity five to seven days a week to support your bones," suggests Heather Hofflich, associate clinical professor of medicine at UC San Diego Health System.

Quick tip: Can't squeeze in a 30-minute workout? Incorporate push-ups and other strength-training activities into your day. You can even do lunges while you're brushing your teeth.

Get tested

Men and women lose bone mass after age 50, but it's particularly noticeable when a woman enters menopause and bone-protecting hormones such as estrogen and progesterone plummet. "Women can lose as much as 5 percent of their bone mass in the first several years following menopause," says Lewiecki. If you have fractured a bone, ask your doctor for a bone density test (a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, or DEXA, scan).

Quick tip:
If you have thinning bones or are diagnosed with osteoporosis, bone-building medication, including bisphosphonates, may help counteract some of the damage.

Best ways to get your recommended daily allowance of calcium

This article was originally published in the February/March 2015 issue of The Magazine. 

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