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Ways to strengthen your bones and prevent osteoporosis

Full length shot of a senior couple taking a run through the park

Reduce your risk of osteoporosis with these tips to strengthen your bones

Building strong bones can be your best defense against developing osteoporosis, which causes bones to become weak or brittle. A healthy lifestyle can keep your bones strong. It is never too early or too late to start your prevention program and strengthen your bones.

Factors that affect your bone health include diet, physical activity, tobacco and alcohol use, age, and family history. Even though you can’t control all of these things, there are some actions you can take to strengthen your bones and prevent osteoporosis.

There are treatments for the condition, but there is no cure. Most people can prevent the onset of osteoporosis. Here are five simple steps to prevent osteoporosis. No one step alone is enough to prevent osteoporosis. But all five working together may help [1]!

  1. When appropriate, have a bone density test and take medication.
  2. Get your daily recommended amount of calcium and vitamin D.
  3. Do weight-bearing exercises regularly.
  4. Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol use.
  5. Talk to your doctor about bone health.

Ask your doctor about a bone density screening (DEXA)

It’s important to understand your unique risk for breaks and fractures. If you are older than 50 and have had a fracture, you are at risk for osteoporosis [2]. A bone mineral density (BMD) test (also called a DEXA scan) is accurate, painless, and noninvasive. It is the only way to diagnose osteoporosis and determine your risk for bone fractures. Since osteoporosis can stay undetected for decades, early diagnosis through testing is important.

A BMD test measures the density of your bones (bone mass). It can determine whether you need medication to help maintain your bone mass, prevent further bone loss, and reduce fracture risk.

Strengthen bones with a healthy diet

Being thoughtful about what you eat can help strengthen your bones. Before you change your diet or start taking a supplement, be sure to talk to your doctor to get the right advice for your situation.

Bone health benefits of calcium

Calcium ensures your heart, muscles, and nerves function properly and your blood is able to clot properly. Not consuming enough calcium is thought to contribute to osteoporosis.

According to the National Institutes of Health [1]:

  • Adults ages 31–50 need 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium daily.
  • Adult men ages 51–70 also need 1,000 mg of calcium daily.
  • Adult women ages 51–70 need 1,200 mg of calcium daily.

If you have difficulty getting enough calcium from food, you may want to take a calcium supplement.

Why your bones need vitamin D

Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Without it, you can’t absorb calcium from the foods you eat. Your body will have to take calcium from your bones.

Vitamin D comes from two sources: your skin (from the sun) and your diet. According to NIH recommendations [1]:

  • Most adults need 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily.
  • Adults ages 70 and older need 800 IU of vitamin D daily.

You may need to take a supplement if you aren’t getting enough vitamin D. These supplements come in two types: vitamin D2 and D3. Recent studies show that both are equally good for bone health.

The importance of protein

Protein can also help with bone health. The amount of protein you should have each day depends on various factors, including your age. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that [3]:

  • Adults ages 19–59 need 5-7 ounces (oz). of protein each day.
  • Adults ages 60 and older need 5-6.5 oz. of protein each day.

Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol use

Drinking too much alcohol puts you at significant risk for osteoporosis [1]. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Women should have only one drink a day. Men should have no more than two drinks a day. Some studies suggest that smoking is also a risk factor for osteoporosis and fracture. If you smoke, you should quit. You should also avoid secondhand smoke. 

Strengthen bones through exercise

Exercise is important for good bone health. If you exercise regularly, you are more likely to reach your peak bone strength than those who do not.

Weight-bearing exercises are the best options for your bones. These include things like walking, dancing, jogging, stair-climbing, racquet sports, and hiking. There are also plenty of ways to exercise right in your home without equipment! Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Keep up to date with checkups and screenings

Partner with your doctor on your bone health. See the doctor for routine checkups and health screenings, like DEXA scans. You may also want to talk to your doctor about your alcohol use or smoking history.

UPMC Health Plan members have access to resources to help them get healthy:


[1] Osteoporosis Overview. National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. Oct. 2019. Accessed Aug. 2, 2021.

[2] Once Is Enough: A Guide to Preventing Future Fractures. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. Dec. 2018. Accessed March 24, 2021.

[3] U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. Dec. 2020. Accessed Aug. 2, 2021.