The bare bones: How to improve your bone health

June 5, 2020

Your body contains more than 200 bones that perform many roles, including providing structure, organ protection, anchors for muscles, and calcium storage.

Chances are, bones aren’t the first thing you think about while striving to improve your overall health. However, starting around age 30, you begin to rapidly lose bone mass which can ultimately affect your quality of life. Experts agree that there are steps you take now, no matter how old you are, to slow the bone loss process and keep you feeling well.

“Many nutrition and lifestyle habits can help build and maintain strong bones well into ‘older age,’” explains Dr. Joshua Blomgren, sports medicine physician, Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush. “There are many things I recommend to my patients to avoid bone and joint conditions like osteopenia, osteoporosis, and even osteoarthritis.”

Osteopenia, which typically affects people over 50, occurs when bones are weaker than normal. Osteoporosis is a more advanced condition that makes bones thinner, more likely to break, and can lead to other health problems, like pain and stooped posture. Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones wears down over time. It most commonly affects the joints in your hands, knees, hips, and spine.

So, what should you do?

Increase calcium intake

Calcium is the most critical mineral in your bones. Because bone cells are continuously broken down and replaced, it is important to consume calcium to keep bones strong. For all adults 19 to 50 and men 51 to 70, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of calcium is 1,000 mg per day. This increases to 1,200 mg per day for women after 50 and men after 70.

“Studies show that it’s best to spread calcium intake throughout the day,” says Dr. Blomgren. “It’s also best to get it from food rather than supplements.”

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 hard to get enough calcium from your diet, ask your doctor about supplements.

Increase Vitamin D intake

Vitamin D and calcium go hand-in-hand because your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. For adults 19 to 70, the RDA of vitamin D is 600 international units (IUs) per day. This increases to 800 IUs per day for those 71 and older.

Good sources of vitamin D include salmon, trout, whitefish and tuna. Also, mushrooms, cheese, eggs, and D-fortified foods, such as milk and cereals are good sources of vitamin D. Sunlight also contributes to the body's production of vitamin D.

Studies have shown that children and adults with low vitamin D levels tend to have lower bone density and are more at risk for bone loss. If you're not getting enough vitamin D in your diet, ask your doctor about supplements.

Perform weight-bearing activity

One of the best activities for bone health is weight-bearing and resistance training because they promote the formation of new bone. Walking, jogging, climbing stairs, and lifting light weights or using resistance bands can help you build strong bones.

Studies show that people who perform weight-bearing exercises showed increases in bone mineral density, bone strength, and bone size. It also has been proven to prevent bone loss in younger and older women, including those with low bone density.

Limit smoking and alcohol

Research suggests that tobacco and alcohol use contribute to weak bones. Smoking also creates inflammation in the body which can aggravate arthritis in the joints. So, throw away the cigarettes and for women, stick to one drink a day and for men, no more than two a day.

Maintain a healthy weight

Being too thin or too heavy isn’t good for your bones and joints. Eating too few calories has been linked to reduced bone density. In addition, stomach surgery, 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. Consume a healthy diet with at least 1,200 calories per day to maintain good bone health.

Carrying too much weight isn’t good for your joints which are built to sustain a certain amount of force. “Each additional 10 pounds of weight you carry adds 20 to 40 lbs. of force to your knees and hips,” explains joint replacement surgeon Dr. Denis Nam, Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush. “This stresses the joints and can hasten the development of osteoarthritis.”

Also, avoid yo-yo dieting which can negatively affect bone health.

Don’t ignore the pain

If you feel pain anywhere in your bones or joints, see a qualified orthopedic physician right away to help determine the cause and best course of treatment for you.

To schedule an appointment with a Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush doctor, call 877.MD.BONES or visit