Maintaining strong bones is one of the keys to healthy aging and is important in preventing injuries from running and other sports. Luckily, exercise itself is one of the best ways to keep your bones strong. Any type of weight-bearing exercise like walking, dancing, or lifting weights stimulates bone growth. Here are some other ways to keep your bones strong.
Eat Right for Your Bones
The primary ingredient in strong bones is the mineral calcium, and vitamin D is important because it aids calcium absorption. The best way to get these nutrients is from food. But if you think your diet is low in calcium or vitamin D, you can take supplements to make up for the shortfall. Here are the recommendations for calcium:
- All adults until age 50: 1,000 mg
- Postmenopausal women: 1,200 mg
- Pregnant women: 1300 mg
- Men over 71: 1200
- Kids 4-8: 1,000 mg
- Teens 9 to 18: 1,300 mg
Here are the recommendations for vitamin D:
- Adults younger than 50: 600 IU
- Pre- and postmenopausal women: 1,000 IU
- Men 50 and older: 1,000 IU
Why do teens need extra calcium? Because it is during these years of maximum growth that we build the bone strength that will sustain us through the rest of their lives. This is also another reason (besides preventing obesity and diabetes) that it’s important for teenagers to get plenty of exercise. For similar reasons, you need extra calcium when you’re pregnant because you’re building strong bones for your baby! For more detailed recommendations, see government guidelines.
Which Foods Are High in Calcium?
Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium. One cup of nonfat milk contains 300 mg of calcium — a quarter of your daily recommended intake. You can find lactose-free dairy goods at most grocery stores.
Many green vegetables and beans and legumes are calcium-rich. Other foods, such as breakfast cereals, orange juice, and soy and almond milk have been fortified with calcium and often with vitamin D as well. The foods below offer the same amount of calcium as a glass of milk:
- ¾ cups of kale
- 1¼ cups of bok choy
- 2½ cups of broccoli
- 1 cup of turnip greens
- 1½ cups of mustard greens
- ½ cup of calcium processed tofu
What Else Can I Do to Keep My Bones Strong?
You might be surprised to learn how many other lifestyle factors affect bone health. For example, did you know that smoking weakens your bones? Giving up cigarettes won’t just save your lungs, it will keep your skeleton strong, too. Caffeine, alcohol and salt all sap bone strength as well, so watch your salt intake and limit yourself to three cups of coffee or tea and one alcoholic drink a day for maximum bone health.
As we get older, osteoporosis becomes a significant risk, particularly for post-menopausal women. Ask your doctor about your risk factors, and whether you should have a bone density scan to check your bone strength.