30 Simple Things You Can Do Daily to Boost Your Bones
Building a strong skeleton happens all day. From the best ways to exercise to the top foods you should have on your plate, these tips will help fortify your frame.
Don’t have much time? You don’t need it. Running not only helps you live longer, but doing it for one to two minutes per day provides a high intensity workout that is associated with better measures of bone health, reports a new study in the International Journal of Epidemiology. High impact activity stimulates bone cells, ultimately improving bone density, the researchers report. And while you’re at it, try incorporating these other habits that slash your risk of osteoporosis.
If you’re a postmenopausal woman, do lower impact activities two to three times a week, recommends Abraham Gregory Lin, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. Try weight machines, dumbbell exercises, or weight-bearing endurance activities like aerobics, walking, or light jogging. Here are 10 subtle body changes that happen when you start lifting weights.
Dance! Just like jogging or using a weight machine, “dancing will increase the weight through your muscles and bones to help increase your bone density,” says Dr. Lin. Check out these 9 dance-inspired workouts that don’t even feel like exercise.
Pop some D
“Vitamin D is a major contributor to bone density because it helps the body with calcium absorption,” Says Fany Patricia Rosas, nurse practitioner and manager of Kaiser Permanente’s Healthy Bones Program in Southern California. She recommends taking a supplement. Currently, the RDA for D is 600 IU, but many doctors suggest taking more. Here are nine signs you’re not getting enough vitamin D; check with your primary care physician to find out what’s right for you.
Skip the pop
Your bones are just one of so many reasons to skip sodas entirely. For every serving of the bubbly stuff per day, a woman’s risk of hip fracture increased by 14 percent, reported a 2014 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The researchers note it’s unclear exactly why there’s this association, but past research has suggested it may be the caffeine, phosphorus, or sugar that interferes with calcium levels in some way. Here are even more reasons to avoid soda.
Eat more fish
Along with a supplement, try to fill your diet with D-packed foods, like fish. Three ounces of cooked sockeye salmon offers 447 IUs of bone-friendly vitamin D, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements. Two canned sardines contain 46 IUs. And three ounces of canned tuna has 154 IUs. Eat them on the regular and you’ll be well on your way to your daily quota. Make sure to also incorporate into your routine these tips that can help you prevent osteoporosis.
When women jumped 10 to 20 times twice per day (resting 30 seconds between each jump) for four months, they benefitted from a stronger hip bone mineral density compared to women who didn’t jump, reports a 2015 study in the American Journal of Health Promotion. Jumping creates micro stresses in bone; when the body rebuilds this bone, it becomes stronger, the study authors note. So get fit by jumping rope!
It’s easy to get caught up in the “shoulds” of traditional exercise. (I should run! I should go to the gym!) But letting loose with a game of tennis, golf, or racquetball also is considered a weight bearing activity that helps fortify your frame, says Julia Bruene, MD, sports medicine physician at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush in Chicago. (And PS: It doesn’t matter if you’re any good, either.) Here’s how to prevent injuries so you can stay in the game longer.
Another perk to getting in a variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, dairy, and seafood? You’ll get a heaping serving of the vitamins and minerals you need to improve bone density, says Rosas-Osnaya. Those include phosphorus, vitamin K, vitamin B6 and B12, and magnesium. Here’s why magnesium especially is so important to your bone health.
Don’t drastically diet
“Young, active women can actually harm their bones by excessive exercise without meeting their daily energy needs,” says Dr. Bruene. Translation: if you exercise too much and eat too little, your bone density can decrease. That’s because running on empty often halts menstrual cycles, lowering the estrogen level in the body, she explains. Estrogen is a pro-bone hormone. Staying active is great, but make sure you’re eating enough, too. There are other reasons that drastic fad diets don’t work.
Go easy on the burgers
“Large amounts of animal protein can affect the kidneys, which then lead to loss of calcium,” says Rosas-Osnaya. “This will lead to a low calcium level in the body, which may contribute to bone loss,” she says. Make sure that you’re filling your plate with three-quarters of plant-based eats and you’ll find a good balance. Otherwise, you may find yourself suffer from these silent signs your bones are in trouble.
Cook with herbs
Spicing up dishes with oregano, smoked paprika, garlic powder, and other herbs and spices can help you cut back on the salt in cooking. “Foods high in salt affect the body’s ability to retain calcium,” notes Rosas-Osnaya. In addition to reducing sodium in cooking, also limit high-sodium snacks like chips. Get schooled on some of the other health benefits of spices.
Fitting soy in your diet is another smart move for healthy bones, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation. Most brands of soymilk are fortified with calcium so that you may be able to get about the same amount of calcium from a glass of soymilk as you would from a glass of regular milk, the group states. Soy may even help stop these bone health issues people definitely don’t know enough about.
Get your java wisely
Coffee has so many health benefits, but knocking back more than three cups a day can impair calcium absorption in your body, notes Rosas-Osnaya. Get your java wake-up, but limit yourself to one or two cups daily. Just don’t drink coffee on an empty stomach!
Check your meds
“There are many medications that negatively contribute to bone loss,” says Rosas-Osnaya. However, there’s typically a reason why you’re taking these, she points out, so talk to your doctor about any meds you’re on and how they may impact your bone health. A few that can interfere with a strong skeleton include: steroids, proton pump inhibitors, antacids that contain aluminum, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), she notes.
Eat more olives
Yep, the little green or black fruits (as well as olive oil) may provide a dose of powerful antioxidants that reduces oxidative stress and inflammation that can harm bones, according to 2016 research in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. They may also promote bone cell formation. Olive oil can also boost your health in innumerable ways (and may even help lengthen your life). Olive oil is also on the list of foods that will help lower your blood pressure.
Ask if you need an Rx
Every day your body is constantly breaking down old bone and forming new bone. If your doctor is worried about your bone health, you may be prescribed what’s called an antiresorptive medication, which slows the break down and reabsorption of bone, Rosas-Osnaya explains. The Rxs can help prevent osteoporosis. Some options include Fosamax, Boniva, and Evista. Check out these 40 ways to slash your risk for the brittle bone disease osteoporosis.
Wear the right footwear
There’s always a risk of tripping and falling if you’re an older adult. In that case, Dr. Lin tells his patients to avoid any shoe that can make you trip, fall, and suffer a hip fracture—not to mention cause pain. “I have witnessed several fractures from tripping in sandals, flip flops, platforms, and high heels,” he says. Instead, choose comfy, well-fitting athletic shoes that have good traction and shock absorption. Now that’s a surprising habit you didn’t know could increase your risk of osteoporosis.
Load up on greens
“Dairy often gets the most attention for calcium and vitamin D, but green vegetables are also a very strong source. Plus they provide fiber, other essential vitamins and are low in calories,” says Jeremy Alland, MD, a sports medicine and primary care physician at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush in Chicago. Some, like beet greens, are considered a superfood. Learn more about your greens.
Experiment with activity
By now, it’s clear that staying active is one of the most important things you can do to keep bones strong. That’s why it’s so key to find an activity that you absolutely love. Figure out what it is. Try a boxing class, sign up to run a 5k, grab your neighbor and try to find fun new walking routes in your area. “If you find a load bearing exercise that you truly enjoy and you can easily fit into your schedule, you will much more likely to repeat it on a daily basis,” says Dr. Lin. And consistency is what will build bones.
Make sure you get the power duo
Peak bone mass happens before age 30, says Dr. Alland. “Many of the interventions discussed to prevent osteoporosis and promote bone health should be implemented when you are younger,” he says. If you have an adolescent at home, make sure they’re getting about 1300 mg of calcium through food and 600 IU of vitamin D per day. These are the signs you’re not getting enough calcium.
Keep it clean
“I hear all the stories about patients tripping over toys, slipping on waxed floors, and tripping in the middle of the night going to the bathroom,” says Dr. Lin. Keep the floors tidy, use non-slip bath mats, and set up night lights in strategic areas to help avoid a fall. Falling is more dangerous than you think—here’s more on how to prevent falling.
Ditch the cigs
There are countless reasons to stop smoking. Preserving your bones should be high up on that list. “Smoking cigarettes can drastically decrease your bone density,” says Dr. Bruene. These are the 23 best ways to quit smoking now.
Eat more nuts
Foods like almonds, cashews, and peanuts are good sources of magnesium, a mineral that improves the structure of bones. It’s also “integral for bone absorption of calcium,” explains Dr. Bruene. (Consider this: up to 60 percent of the magnesium in your body is housed in your skeleton, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements .) Here’s what you need to know before you start popping a magnesium supplement.
Do cobra pose
You may not think you have enough time for yoga, but you don’t need a lot. It’s worth the effort because just 12 minutes of a daily yoga practice helped patients improve the bone mineral density in their spine, hips, and femur, found a 2016 study in Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation.
Slow down on the calcium supplements
Avoid taking excessive calcium supplements, warns Dr. Bruene, who notes that some research suggests it can lead to early heart disease. Case in point: A study published in 2016 in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that higher dose calcium supplements were associated with an increased risk for a build-up of calcium in the arteries. Avoid consuming more than 2,000 mg of calcium a day, adds Dr. Alland.
Step out into the sun
One of the main ways your body manufactures vitamin D is through your skin via sun exposure. That’s why Dr. Bruene recommends spending time outside in the sun to boost your vitamin D level naturally. That said—you should still wear sunscreen every time you’re out. SPF doesn’t eliminate all UV rays, so some still reach your skin, which is why you can still maintain D levels even while wearing SPF, the Skin Cancer Foundation points out. You can also try eating these vitamin D-rich foods.
You’ve heard that women should have no more than one alcoholic drink per day; for men, it’s two per day. Another reason to stay under that limit is for your bones. “Three or more alcoholic beverages a day for a long period of time interferes with bone formation, causing thin and fragile bones,” says Rosas-Osnaya. (Not to mention potential falls and fractures). If you drink, stick to a moderate amount per day. A little alcohol may even be good for your heart.
There’s something to be said about moving your body more throughout the day—outside of the gym. Dr. Alland recommends getting a pedometer (you can also use an app on your phone or a fitness tracker) to challenge yourself to get as many steps in the day you can. Can’t take 10,000 steps a day? Do this instead.
When you’re thinking about how you can preserve your skeleton ask yourself this question: is it a smart habit for my health? If the answer is yes, it will probably do your body—including your bones—good. “An overall healthy lifestyle is more important than any one specific nutrient or vitamin,” says Dr. Alland. Next, learn the silent signs you might have osteoporosis.
- International Journal of Epidemiology: “A small amount of precisely measured high-intensity habitual physical activity predicts bone health in pre- and post-menopausal women in UK Biobank.”
- Abraham Gregory Lin, MD, an orthopedic surgeon, Kaiser Permanente, Southern California.
- Fany Patricia Rosas, nurse practitioner and manager, Kaiser Permanente, Healthy Bones Program, Southern California
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:“Soda consumption and risk of hip fractures in postmenopausal women in the Nurses’ Health Study.”
- National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin D.
- American Journal of Health Promotion.“Effect of Two Jumping Programs on Hip Bone Mineral Density in Premenopausal Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial.”Julia Bruene, MD, sports medicine physician, Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush, Chicago
- International Osteoporosis Foundation: “Discover the bone-benefits of soy.”
- Jeremy Alland, MD, a sports medicine and primary care physician, Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush, Chicago
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health:”Olives and Bone: A Green Osteoporosis Prevention Option.”
- National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements: Magnesium.
- Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation:”Twelve-Minute Daily Yoga Regimen Reverses Osteoporotic Bone Loss.”
- Journal of the American Heart Association: “Calcium Intake From Diet and Supplements and the Risk of Coronary Artery Calcification and its Progression Among Older Adults: 10‐Year Follow‐up of the Multi‐Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA).”