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Taking care of your bones

You can help ensure good bone health

There are several factors that can affect your bones, and it's never too late to take steps to build and maintain healthy bones

Nutrition

Calcium and vitamin D are needed for strong bones. It's a well established fact that low calcium intake can result in low bone mass and high fracture rates. In order to absorb calcium, your body needs vitamin D. 

Be sure to include calcium-rich foods in your diet, such as fortified oatmeal, sardines, dairy products, soybeans and tofu. See the chart below for the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for calcium in milligrams. When choosing calcium supplements, visit with your doctor about the various types of calcium compounds available and which one is right for you. 

0-6 months - 200 mg
7-12 months - 260 mg
1-3 years - 700 mg
4-8 years - 1,000 mg
9-13 years - 1,300 mg
14-18 years - 1,300 mg
19-50 years - 1,000 mg
51-70 years - 1,000 mg
71+ years - 1,200 mg

The recommended daily intake for vitamin D is 600 IU (International Units) up to age 70. After age 70, both men and women should increase their daily vitamin D intake to 800 IU. You can get vitamin D through your skin (absorbed from the sun), foods such as fortified milk, saltwater fish and liver, and from supplements. Visit with your doctor about your body's vitamin D needs. For individuals with extremely low level, a doctor may prescribe high-dosage vitamin D supplements.

Physical activity

A general, regular exercise program will help with strength, coordination and balance. Preventing falls and related fractures is particularly important for older adults and those with osteoporosis, a condition in which your bones become weak and brittle because of a loss of tissue. The best exercise for building healthy bones is weight-bearing exercises in which your body has to work against gravity. Good examples of weight-bearing exercises are weight training, walking, jogging, climbing stairs, tennis and even dancing. Be sure to check with your physician before beginning a regular exercise program.

Tobacco and alcohol use

Recent studies show a direct relationship between tobacco use and decreased bone mass. Excessive alcohol use can also affect your bone health because it interferes with the body's ability to absorb calcium and your ability to maintain coordination and gait, putting you at risk for falls and fractures.

Who you are

Gender, size, age, race and family history can play a role in your bone health and your risk for osteoporosis. Women often have less bone tissue than men. Having a small body frame means you'll have less bone mass to draw from as you get older. Caucasians and Asians have a higher risk of osteoporosis. 

Hormones

For menopausal women, bone loss can increase dramatically because of dropping estrogen levels. In men, low testosterone levels can cause bone loss. Bone loss can also be caused by too much thyroid hormone.

Medications

Prolonged use of certain medications, such as steroids or medications used to treat lupus, asthma, seizures, mental health and other conditions can put you at higher risk for osteoporosis.

Other health conditions

Individuals with eating disorders often experience nutritional and hormonal problems that will affect bone density. Some conditions, such as Crohn's disease, celiac disease and Cushing's disease, can impact bone health because they can limit the body's ability to absorb calcium.