Whether you have concerns for yourself personally, or for aging family members or friends, osteoporosis can be scary because it’s a “silent” disease that doesn’t typically have symptoms – you often don’t find out you’ve got it until you’ve broken a bone.
The best ways to build strong bones are to eat a nutritious, balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, engage in regular weight-bearing exercise, limit caffeine and alcohol intake, and quit smoking (or never start in the first place).
The good news is that even if you or your loved ones have already experienced some bone loss, it is possible to reduce the risk of further bone loss with our science-backed tips.
- Post-menopausal women are at much higher risk of osteoporosis than any other group, and specifically women of Caucasian or Asian descent are most likely to experience osteoporosis.
- Lifestyle factors such as poor diet, physical inactivity, smoking, drinking alcohol, and certain medications can also increase the risk of osteoporosis.
- Incorporating bone-strengthening habits for the long term is easier with a good plan, and the support of family or friends, and professionals such as coaches and health care providers.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones where bones get weaker from loss of bone mass to the point that they can break easily from a minor slip, trip, or fall, or even a violent coughing fit.
Who Are Most At Risk Of Developing Osteoporosis?
Women are more likely than men to develop osteoporosis, mainly due to larger changes in hormones later in life.
This means that age is also a factor, with an increased risk for all adults over the age of 50 to develop the disease.
Certain ethnicities also have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis; the odds are higher for those with a Caucasian or Asian ethnicity.
Plus, lifestyle factors can also contribute to the risk of osteoporosis, such as:
- Poor dietary habits, especially low intake of calcium and/or vitamin D and protein
- Physical inactivity
- Heavy use of alcohol
- Use of certain medications, such as antidepressants
- Being underweight
Understanding The Link Between Menopause And Osteoporosis
The term menopause refers to the cessation of menstrual periods due to decreased hormone production by the ovaries. The most significant hormone affected is estrogen, in various forms.
Declining estrogen levels are linked to losses in bone mass, which is why there is a strong connection between menopause and osteoporosis.
Post-menopausal women experience osteoporosis six times more often than men of the same age.
Although this can be intimidating, there are things that you can do before and after menopause to decrease your risk of osteoporosis.
7 Science-Backed Tips For Maintaining Strong Bones After 50
1. Engage In Weight-Bearing Activities And Exercises
Weight-bearing activities are those that require you to support your own body weight in the movements, such as walking or jogging, and jumping.
These are distinct from other exercises where all or part of the body is supported such as on a chair, bench, or bicycle, or in a swimming pool.
Weight-bearing exercise has been specifically studied in people with osteoporosis and it increases bone mineral density more than a non-weight-bearing exercise routine of the same duration.
Participants completed 2 sessions per week, lasting 45-60 minutes. This is a total of 90-120 minutes.
Aim to complete a total of 90-120 minutes of weight-bearing activities each week to build strong bones. This can include walking, jogging, gardening, and household chores such as sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, and raking leaves.
2. Eat A Healthy Diet
The importance of a healthy diet in reducing the risk of osteoporosis cannot be overstated: even the foods a pregnant mother eats can influence the bone mass of her child.
Regardless of what you did (or didn’t) eat as a child or young adult, the good news is that you can make changes that will benefit you now.
The first change to make to your diet is to increase your protein intake (check out our list of the highest protein foods or learn tips on how to increase your protein without increasing fat intake).
Active individuals and older adults should aim for 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.
For example, a person who weighs 130 lbs would need to consume 117 grams of protein per day.
Additionally, consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables and getting good dietary sources of calcium and vitamin D (from natural sources like dairy, fish, almonds, and fortified products) are excellent ways to support your bone health.
But when it comes to calories, there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing”. A high-calorie diet has been associated with lower bone mass and an increased rate of fractures.
If you notice that your weight is increasing over time, then try reducing your portion sizes for carbs and fats and perhaps increasing your portion sizes of protein, fruits, and vegetables.
Aim to eat a healthy diet with an emphasis on minimally processed whole foods that include lean protein sources (i.e. chicken), complex carbohydrates (i.e. grains), fruits and vegetables, and healthy sources of fat (i.e. nuts & seeds) to build and maintain strong bones.
3. Consider Hormone Replacement Therapy
In conjunction with your doctor or other primary health care provider, discuss whether hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is appropriate for you to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
The National Osteoporosis Society concluded that HRT has a protective role to play in the management of osteoporosis for women under the age of 60 who are past menopause (postmenopausal).
If you are a postmenopausal woman under the age of 60 and you have concerns about osteoporosis, schedule a discussion with your healthcare provider to discuss whether HRT is right for you to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
4. Limit Caffeine Intake
A High caffeine intake is associated with higher rates of bone loss, so it’s best to minimize your intake to reduce your risk of osteoporosis.
In this study, caffeine intakes greater than 300 mg per day accelerated spinal bone loss in postmenopausal women.
For reference, 300mg of caffeine would be the equivalent of approximately three 8-ounce cups of coffee.
Aim to keep caffeine consumption below 300 mg per day to minimize bone loss.
5. Drink Alcohol In Moderation, Or Abstain Completely
People who abstain from alcohol completely have the lowest risk of developing osteoporosis. In this study, each additional drink increased the risk of osteoporosis.
If you’re someone who drinks regularly then it may seem difficult to stop drinking entirely, but you can start with 1 less drink per day or per week to make gradual reductions to your alcohol intake.
Aim to abstain from alcohol completely, or limit your intake to no more than 3 drinks per week to lower your risk of developing osteoporosis.
6. Quit Smoking
Smoking already has a bad reputation for your heart and lungs, and it also leads to significant bone loss, increasing your risk of osteoporosis.
While the risk for ex-smokers is still higher than the risk for people who have never smoked, it is lower than the risk for current smokers, which makes quitting now worthwhile.
If you are a current smoker, quit. If you have never smoked, don’t start. Both options lower your risk of osteoporosis compared to someone who continues to smoke.
7. Take Medications As Prescribed
There are several medications for osteoporosis (such as calcitonin and risedronate), but it turns out that nearly half (45%) of patients prescribed such medications were not continuing to fill these prescriptions after the first year.
By the five-year mark, compliance dropped to less than half, with only 48% of patients continuing to fill their prescriptions.
To get the full benefit of osteoporosis medications, it is important to continue taking them as prescribed, unless advised not to do so by a medical professional.
Continue to take osteoporosis medications as prescribed unless otherwise indicated by your primary health care provider to maximize their bone-strengthening benefits.
Incorporating Bone Strengthening Habits Into Your Daily Routine
Make A Schedule
Just like keeping up with a busy social life, one of the best ways to stay on track with bone-strengthening habits is to create a schedule and stick to it.
I recommend including these habits in a daily, weekly, or monthly planner. This can be as simple as a pen and a paper calendar, or using an electronic calendar/scheduling app.
In your planner you can include:
- Taking any prescribed osteoporosis medication and/or hormone replacement therapy daily at the same time, depending on the instructions from your healthcare provider. Then, you might schedule refills monthly or quarterly, as needed.
- Grocery shopping to get healthy ingredients and doing some batch food preparation.
- Regular exercise should be scheduled as a regular standing appointment. This could mean a standing weekly squash game with friends, or a daily walk around the block after dinner.
Take the time to plan out when and how you will include your habits on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, and include them in your calendar (on paper or electronically).
Most things in life are better with friends, and building and maintaining strong bones is no exception.
Find like-minded friends and family members who also share an interest in keeping their bones strong. You can keep each other on track with your habits by doing them together, such as preparing and eating healthy meals, or enjoying exercise classes or other physical activities, like walking.
These friends can also provide positive social and emotional support that reduces the likelihood that you will turn to alcohol to boost your mood.
Let your friends and family members know that you’d like their support with your new habits, and “recruit” those who express an interest in helping you.
Enlist A Professional
Sometimes it’s hard to find family members or friends who are as committed to your new healthy habits as you are, or they are well-meaning but lack the knowledge or time to give you the support that you need.
In this case, investing in a relationship with one or more professionals for each habit area can pay you back in multiple ways.
For example, you might work with a personal trainer to plan and carry out a safe and effective exercise program, a Registered Dietician or nutrition coach to plan healthy meals, and a doctor or other health professional to determine the appropriate medication for you.
Counselors, therapists, and other medical providers can also assist with behavior change when it comes to caffeine and alcohol.
Consider investing in a relationship with appropriate professionals to provide advice, information, and accountability for your new bone-strengthening habits.
Can You Reverse Osteoporosis?
No, you cannot reverse osteoporosis, but you can slow bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures by incorporating the bone-strengthening habits described above into your daily routine.
About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.