Build strong bones for life

What is osteoporosis?

If you are a woman 50 or older, you have a one in five chance of developing osteoporosis, a common condition that weakens your bones. If left untreated, it can lead to broken bones and a diminished quality of life.

How do you get osteoporosis?

When you're younger, your body is busy building new bone mass. As you age, however, production of new bone mass slows while bone loss speeds up. Osteoporosis develops when you lose too much of your bone mass without rebuilding it. Osteoporosis develops slowly over time, and has no symptoms. Usually, people discover they have osteoporosis after breaking a bone.

How can you build stronger bones?

It's never too late to build bone strength — so don't give up taking care of your bones, no matter your age. Follow these simple tips to keep your bones in good health:

Get enough calcium. Get 1,200 mg of calcium every day, with most of it coming from food. To help with calcium absorption, we also recommend taking 800 to 1,000 international units of vitamin D daily. Talk with your doctor about taking a calcium supplement, if you think you're not getting enough in your diet. Some medications also can interact adversely with calcium, so it's important to know when and how to take these supplements. Calcium-rich foods include:

  • Low-fat milk, yogurt or cheese
  • Salmon (cooked, with bones) and sardines
  • Tofu
  • Almonds
  • Dark green vegetables such as spinach and collard or turnip greens
  • Calcium-fortified foods such as orange juice, breads and breakfast cereals

Find out how much calcium is in what you're eating.

Add exercise. Mild to moderate exercise — walking, dancing, swimming and the like — can really improve your bone strength. Consider other lower-impact options, such as climbing stairs, gardening, hiking, tennis, weight-lifting and yoga.

Quit smoking. Studies show that people who smoke have greater bone loss than those who don't smoke. Not sure if you're ready to quit? Consider the benefits.

Consider medication. For people with osteoporosis, especially if you've had a fracture, taking medication may be one of the best ways to strengthen your bones. Bisphosphonates can reduce your risk of breaking a bone by 40 to 50 percent. Some medications are now available as generic, which can lower your cost.

What are the risk factors for osteoporosis?

Gender. Osteoporosis is more common in women, who experience a sudden drop in estrogen at menopause that accelerates bone loss. Men also can develop osteoporosis — especially those who have low testosterone levels.

Age. Your risk increases for osteoporosis with age.

Family history. If your mother or sister has osteoporosis, you are at greater risk.

Certain medications. Long-term use of corticosteroid medications such as prednisone and cortisone — both of which are common treatments for chronic conditions such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis — are damaging to bone.

Take action

If you recently fractured a bone and are at risk for osteoporosis, speak with your health care provider about how best to prevent bone loss into your 50s, 60s and beyond.

You may require a bone mineral density test. This test measures how strong your bones are and can determine your risk for bone fractures as well as help decide an appropriate course of treatment. Bone density is measured by something called a DEXA scan, which is similar to an X-ray but with less radiation exposure. The test is painless, and takes roughly 20 minutes to complete.