Make no bones about it—osteoporosis is a serious health issue. Roughly one in every two women in the United States over the age of 50 will break a bone because of this disease. When you were a kid, if you snapped your arm falling off your bike, the doctor set it in a cast and six weeks later you were good as new. When you’re older, recovery from fractures and breaks can be slow and painful.
It’s never too late to boost your bone strength, and it becomes even more critical when, post menopause, your level of protective estrogen has dropped. Follow this 4-step bone-building strategy.
1. Be a dairy aficionado
Calcium rules when it comes to building strong bones, and the best source is dairy. An 8-ounce glass of low-fat milk or a typical 6-ounce container of low-fat yogurt delivers roughly 300 mg of calcium. Greek yogurt, however, contains about 200 mg of calcium—still plenty, but keep it in mind when you’re calculating calcium intake. Women under 50 should get 1,000 mg a day; if you’re over 50—1,200 mg. And if you don’t get enough through diet, which you might not if you are restricting calories, take a supplement such as Curves Calcium with D.
“Know that your body can only absorb 400 mg of calcium at a time, so spread consumption of calcium-rich foods and supplements throughout the day,” advises Taylor Wallace, Ph.D., senior director of science policy and government relations at the National Osteoporosis Foundation and an adjunct professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at George Mason University.
Other foods rich in calcium: canned salmon or mackerel with bones, broccoli, leafy greens, Chinese cabbage, and fortified foods. Spinach—though rich in calcium—contains oxalic acid, which prevents absorption.
2. Get what you need in Vitamin D
D is the king of vitamins for bone health. “It helps with absorption of calcium from food, and it pulls calcium into the bone,” says Wallace. “Getting adequate vitamin D also helps prevent falls because of its role in healthy muscular function.” Many of us don’t get adequate vitamin D. It’s available in only a few foods and, though our body can make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, sunscreen interferes. “UV rays are needed to make vitamin D and when you block them, you prevent vitamin D synthesis,” explains Wallace.
In 2010, the U.S. Institute of Medicine revised recommended intakes for vitamin D up from 400 to 600 IU daily for children and adults (800 if you are over 70), and the National Osteoporosis Foundation advises women over 50 consume 800 to 1,000 IU a day.
Dietary sources of vitamin D: “The only good dietary sources of vitamin D are fortified milk and fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel,” says Wallace. An egg yolk provides a modest 44 IU of vitamin D, fortified cereals and beverages may have added D as do calcium supplements. If you think you’re not getting enough D from foods, talk with your doctor about whether you should get a blood test and perhaps take supplements if your level is low.
3. Fill up on fruits and vegetables
Other nutrients that nurture bone health include magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin K, and the best sources of these vitamins and minerals are fruits and vegetables. “Bone is living tissue,” Wallace points out, “and it needs a variety of nutrients for optimal health and function.”
Some top picks in produce: Eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruits including dark green, leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens, beet greens, and mustard greens; tomatoes; red and green peppers; broccoli; Brussels sprouts; sweet potatoes; oranges; bananas; strawberries; pineapples; papayas; raisins; and prunes.
4. Strengthen your bones with exercise
Weight bearing activities such as walking, running, jumping rope, dancing, the Curves Circuit with Jillian Michaels — anything you do on two legs that requires your body to support your weight against the forces of gravity as you move—help increase bone density. As you impact the ground, stress is felt in your bones from your feet on up your spine, and that stress stimulates bone building.
Resistance training—like your Curves workout—also puts load on your bones and is another good way to deepen density. Finally, for extra protection against breaking a bone, include balance training in your physical-activity plan to prevent falls. Consider regularly attending the Curves Body Balance Class.
A final word from Wallace
“Osteoporosis is a serious health concern,” emphasizes Wallace, “54 percent of Americans over the age of 50 have low bone mass or osteoporosis. But nutrition and exercise to prevent this disease are important over your whole life. You reach peak bone mass in your early 20’s—the higher your bone mass at that time, the lower your risk of osteoporosis later. Unfortunately those who are most lacking calcium in their diets are girls and young women.” So as you steer your own healthy lifestyle toward building stronger bones, consider guiding your daughter or granddaughter toward regular exercise and bone-building foods too.