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Diet and Exercise Can Help Reduce Your Risk of Osteoporosis

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Whitney Linsenmeyer, Ph.D., RD, LD

Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Many Americans have a silent disease that progresses so slowly they may not even know they have it until they break a bone. The disease is osteoporosis.  

As we age, bones can lose calcium and other minerals, weakening them and making them more brittle and susceptible to breaking during everyday use. Something as simple as a minor fall or bumping into a piece of furniture can cause a bone to break in someone with osteoporosis. 

Osteoporosis can strike at any age, but half of women and one in four men over the age of 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Shrinking in height or developing a curved spine are signs of osteoporosis.  

The best way to prevent osteoporosis is to start building your bone health when you are young by eating healthful foods, which include adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, and performing weight-bearing activities. Consider seeing a registered dietitian nutritionist to make sure you stay on track.  

Some additional tips:

Get your calcium and vitamin D

Calcium and vitamin D work together to help form new bone cells, which is essential for preventing osteoporosis. Some calcium-rich foods and beverages include low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese, calcium-fortified soy milk, and 100 percent fruit juice. Other sources include soybeans and dark green, leafy vegetables.  

Note that your calcium needs change at different stages of life: 

  • Children ages 1 to 3 need 700 milligrams of calcium a day
  • Children ages 4 to 8 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day
  • Children ages 9 to 18 need 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day
  • Adults ages 19 to 50 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day.
  • Men between the ages of 51 and 70 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day
  • Women older than 50 and men older than 70 need 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day

Be sure to eat a variety of foods from all of the food groups, because calcium works with other nutrients including vitamin K, potassium, and magnesium to increase bone density and strength.     

Build your strength 

Resistance training and weight-bearing activities may help prevent, reduce the severity of, or stop the progression of osteoporosis by strengthening and maintaining major muscle groups and bones. 

The “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans” recommends bone-strengthening activities at least three times a week for school-age children and adolescents as part of their 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Muscle-strengthening activities are also recommended three days per week for this age group, and two or more days per week for adults. 

People who are sedentary, or have chronic diseases or disabilities should check with their healthcare provider before starting or increasing physical activities.

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