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Support Your Bones and They'll Support You

You're never too young or too old to be concerned about bone health. Your skeleton is composed of 206 bones that provide structure to enable you to move. Your bones protect your brain, heart, and other organs from injury and store minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, which help keep your bones strong.

You get calcium and phosphorus from the foods you eat. If you don't consume enough calcium in your diet to keep your body functioning, calcium is depleted from your bones, your bone density is reduced, and the risk of breaking your bones is increased.

Bone weakness leads to osteoporosis

You may not notice any early symptoms of a calcium deficiency, but as your bones grow weaker, you can develop osteoporosis. Older adults with osteoporosis are vulnerable to breaks in their wrists, hips, and spines. Britta Trepp, MS, associate director for the University of Utah PEAK Health and Fitness and manager of the Build-a-Bone Program in the Office of Wellness & Integrative Health observes, "One major sign that you may have osteoporosis is a fragility fracture. That wouldn't normally occur from a bump or minor fall." Bone fractures are painful and can cause loss of mobility and independence and can result in death.

Risk factors increase osteoporosis

Risk factors can increase your chances of getting osteoporosis—some you can control, and others you can't.

Keep your bones strong by following these good health habits:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Consume calcium in low-fat dairy products and foods and drinks with added calcium; get vitamin D from egg yolks, saltwater fish, liver, and milk with vitamin D. Eat fruits and vegetables with other nutrients for bone health.

You may need to take multivitamins or nutritional supplements to get enough calcium and vitamin D.

  • Be physically active. Like muscles, bones become stronger with exercise. Each day, try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise—strength-building and weight-bearing, like walking, climbing stairs, lifting weights, and dancing.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle. Don't smoke and limit your alcohol intake. Smoking and heavy alcohol use can reduce bone mass and increase your risk for broken bones.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you are underweight, you raise the risk of fractures and bone loss.
  • Talk to your doctor about your bone health. Discuss risk factors with your doctor. Ask if you should get a bone density test—a quick, safe, and painless way to measure your bone strength and density if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia, and reduce your risk of breaking a bone.

Check with your doctor if you take medicines that can cause bone loss. These include glucocorticoids for arthritis, asthma, and many other diseases and drugs that prevent seizures or treat endometriosis and cancer. Your doctor can prescribe medications to help prevent bone loss and reduce your chances of bone fractures.

  • Prevent falls. If you fall, you can break a bone, especially if you have osteoporosis. To prevent falls, check your home for hazards like loose rugs and poor lighting. Have your vision checked regularly. Increase your balance and strength by walking every day and taking movement and balance classes. If you have strong bones, you may prevent fractures if you fall.

You can't control some risk factors, including:

  • Age: Your chances of getting osteoporosis increase as you get older.
  • Gender: You have a greater chance of getting osteoporosis if you are a woman. Women have smaller bones than men and lose bone faster than men because of hormone changes after menopause.
  • Ethnicity: White and Asian women are most likely to get osteoporosis. Hispanic and African American women are also at risk.
  • Family history: Having a family history of osteoporosis may also increase your risk.

Additional tips to keep your bones healthy

At any age, you can continue to learn how to care for and strengthen your bones, mitigate fracture risk, and decrease your chance of developing osteoporosis through these resources: