A bone is a rigid organ that constitutes part of the vertebrate skeleton. It supports and protects the various organs of the body, produce red and white blood cells, store minerals, provide structure and support for the body, and enable mobility. Bones come in a variety of shapes and sizes and have a complex internal and external structure. They are light weight yet strong and hard, and serve multiple functions. Bone tissue (osseous tissue) is a hard tissue, a type of dense connective tissue. It has a honeycomb-like matrix internally, which helps to give the bone rigidity.
Building healthy bones is extremely important. Minerals are incorporated into your bones during childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. Once you reach 30 years of age, you have achieved peak bone mass. If not enough bone mass is created during this time or bone loss occurs later in life, you have an increased risk of developing fragile bones that break easily. Fortunately, many nutrition and lifestyle habits can help you build strong bones and maintain them as you age. These are some of the ways in which we can maintain the healthy bones.
Ways to build healthy and strong bones
1. Eat a lot of vegetables to make bones strong
Vegetables are great for your bones. They’re one of the best sources of vitamin C, which stimulates the production of bone-forming cells. In addition, some studies suggest that vitamin C’s antioxidant effects may protect bone cells from damage. Vegetables also seem to increase bone mineral density, also known as bone density. Bone density is a measurement of the amount of calcium and other minerals found in your bones. Both osteopenia (low bone mass) and osteoporosis (brittle bones) are conditions characterized by low bone density. A high intake of green and yellow vegetables has been linked to increased bone mineralization during childhood and the maintenance of bone mass in young adults.
Eating lots of vegetables has also been found to benefit older women. A study in women over 50 found those who consumed onions most frequently had a 20% lower risk of osteoporosis, compared to women who rarely ate them. One major risk factor for osteoporosis in older adults is increased bone turnover, or the process of breaking down and forming new bone. In a three-month study, women who consumed more than nine servings of broccoli, cabbage, parsley or other plants high in bone-protective antioxidants had a decrease in bone turnover.
2. Eat a plenty of calcium
About 99% of the calcium in your body is in your bones and teeth. It’s important to get enough calcium to grow and maintain healthy, strong bones. Unfortunately, many people — especially women — don’t get enough calcium in their daily diets. The recommended daily intake of calcium varies depending on your age and sex, but the daily upper limit is between 2,000-2,500mg per day. You shouldn’t consume more than this unless instructed by your doctor.
- Children under age 1 should get between 200-260mg a day. Under age 3 should get about 700mg of calcium per day. Children from 4-8 should get 1,000mg. Older children and teens need about 1,300mg per day. During childhood and the teen years, your body adds new bone faster than it is removed, so you need extra calcium during these years.
- Adults under 50 should get about 1,000mg daily, and women over 50 should boost their intake to about 1,200mg daily. All adults over 70 should consume 1,200mg daily.
- Your body may start to break down more bone than it replaces after age 20, though it usually starts in your early 30s. Getting enough calcium and other nutrients will help you keep your bones strong.
- Calcium is available in dietary supplements, but you should only take these as instructed by your doctor. Too much calcium can cause constipation and kidney stones, among other unpleasant side effects. The two main forms are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate is the cheapest, but it should be taken with food. Calcium citrate can be helpful for those with inflammatory bowel disease or absorption disorders, as it does not require food.
- Calcium supplements are best absorbed in small doses (about 500mg at a time), several times a day.
3. Prioritize exercising for stronger bones
Seriously. Regular exercise is key to keep a number of health issues at bay, and bone health is no exception. In fact, living a sedentary lifestyle is considered a risk factor for osteoporosis. One study comparing bone density in college women with various body weights and activity levels found that athletes with low body weight had the highest bone density of any group in the study, showing exercise (and low body weight) can have a positive effect on bone density.
What type of exercise is most effective? Weight-bearing exercises like running, walking, jumping rope, skiing and stair climbing keep bones strongest. Resistance training has also been shown to improve bone health in several studies, so pick up the weights after going for a jog. Bonus for the older readers: improved strength and balance helps prevent falls (and the associated fractures) in those who already have osteoporosis.
4. Rely on Vitamin D for strong bones
Where there’s calcium, there must be vitamin D: The two work together to help the body absorb the bone-boosting calcium. Boost vitamin D consumption by munching on shrimp, fortified foods like cereal and orange juice, sardines, eggs (in the yolks), and tuna, or opt for a vitamin D supplement. Greatist Expert Eugene Babenko suggests getting your vitamin D (specifically vitamin D3) levels checked at your next doctor’s appointment, and to discuss the use of supplements with your doctor.
The body also produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun — 10 to 15 minutes of exposure three times per week will do. Vitamin D’s importance to bone health has been proven in studies on “seasonal bone loss” — elderly people can lose more bone mass during the winter because of lack of sun exposure . Though these and many other studies on bone loss looked at elderly people specifically, bone health is all about prevention, so younger folks should catch a few rays to stock up on D.
5. Perform Strength Training and Weight-Bearing Exercises for stronger bones
Engaging in specific types of exercise can help you build and maintain strong bones.One of the best types of activity for bone health is weight-bearing or high-impact exercise, which promotes the formation of new bone. Studies in children, including those with type 1 diabetes, have found that this type of activity increases the amount of bone created during the years of peak bone growth. In addition, it can be extremely beneficial for preventing bone loss in older adults. Studies in older men and women who performed weight-bearing exercise showed increases in bone mineral density, bone strength and bone size, as well as reductions in markers of bone turnover and inflammation.
However, one study found little improvement in bone density among older men who performed the highest level of weight-bearing exercise over nine months. Strength-training exercise is not only beneficial for increasing muscle mass. It may also help protect against bone loss in younger and older women, including those with osteoporosis, osteopenia or breast cancer .One study in men with low bone mass found that although both resistance training and weight-bearing exercise increased bone density in several areas of the body, only resistance training had this effect in the hip.
6. Consume less caffeine for strong bones
Caffeine does have some health benefits, but unfortunately not for our bones. Too much of it can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium. One study showed that drinking more than two cups of coffee per day accelerated bone loss in subjects who also didn’t consume enough calcium. Another study (albeit on elderly women) showed that more than 18 ounces of coffee per day can accelerate bone loss by negatively interacting with vitamin D. So enjoy the java, but keep it in moderation and consume enough calcium, too.
7. Limit boozing for bone strength
But like caffeine, there’s no need to quit boozing entirely. While heavy alcohol consumption can cause bone loss (because it interferes with vitamin D doing its job), moderate consumption (that’s one drink per day for women, two per day for men) is fine — and recent studies actually show it may help slow bone loss.
8. Consumption of protein for stronger bones
Getting enough protein is important for healthy bones. In fact, about 50% of bone is made of protein. Researchers have reported that low protein intake decreases calcium absorption and may also affect rates of bone formation and breakdown. However, concerns have also been raised that high-protein diets leach calcium from bones in order to counteract increased acidity in the blood. Nevertheless, studies have found that this doesn’t occur in people who consume up to 100 grams of protein daily, as long as this is balanced with plenty of plant foods and adequate calcium intake.
In fact, research suggests that older women, in particular, appear to have better bone density when they consume higher amounts of protein. In a large, six-year observational study of over 144,000 postmenopausal women, higher protein intake was linked to a lower risk of forearm fractures and significantly higher bone density in the hip, spine and total body. What’s more, diets containing a greater percentage of calories from protein may help preserve bone mass during weight loss. In a one-year study, women who consumed 86 grams of protein daily on a calorie-restricted diet lost less bone mass from their arm, spine, hip and leg areas than women who consumed 60 grams of protein per day.
9. Stop smoking or becoming a passive smoker
Smoking is incredibly harmful for every part of your body, and your bones are no exception. Smoking interferes with your body’s use of vitamin D to absorb calcium and interferes with your body’s ability to use vitamin C to create new collagen. Both of these things weaken your bones. In fact, smoking is directly linked to lower bone density.
- Smoking also lowers estrogen levels in men and women. Estrogen is crucial to helping your bones retain calcium and other minerals.
- Studies have shown that exposure to secondhand smoke exposure during youth and early adulthood may increase the risk of developing low bone mass later. Keep children and growing youth away from areas with secondhand smoke.
10. Avoid having low calorie diets
Dropping calories too low is never a good idea. In addition to slowing down your metabolism, creating rebound hunger and causing muscle mass loss, it can also be harmful to bone health. Studies have shown that diets providing fewer than 1,000 calories per day can lead to lower bone density in normal-weight, overweight or obese individuals. In one study, obese women who consumed 925 calories per day for four months experienced a significant loss of bone density from their hip and upper thigh region, regardless of whether they performed resistance training. To build and maintain strong bones, follow a well-balanced diet that provides at least 1,200 calories per day. It should include plenty of protein and foods rich in vitamins and minerals that support bone health.
11. Maintain a healthy weight for strong bones
In addition to eating a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight can help support bone health. For example, being underweight increases the risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis. This is especially the case in postmenopausal women who have lost the bone-protective effects of estrogen. In fact, low body weight is the main factor contributing to reduced bone density and bone loss in this age group. On the other hand, some studies suggest that being obese can impair bone quality and increase the risk of fractures due to the stress of excess weight.
While weight loss typically results in some bone loss, it is usually less pronounced in obese individuals than normal-weight individuals. Overall, repeatedly losing and regaining weight appears particularly detrimental to bone health, as well as losing a large amount of weight in a short time. One recent study found that bone loss during weight loss was not reversed when weight was regained, which suggests that repeated cycles of losing and gaining weight may lead to significant bone loss over a person’s lifetime. Maintaining a stable normal or slightly higher than normal weight is your best bet when it comes to protecting your bone health.
12. Consume Foods High in Omega-3 Fats
Omega-3 fatty acids are well known for their anti-inflammatory effects. They’ve also been shown to help protect against bone loss during the aging process. In addition to including omega-3 fats in your diet, it’s also important to make sure your balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fats isn’t too high. In one large study of over 1,500 adults aged 45–90, those who consumed a higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids tended to have lower bone density than people with a lower ratio of the two fats. Generally speaking, it’s best to aim for an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 4:1 or lower. In addition, although most studies have looked at the benefits of long-chain omega-3 fats found in fatty fish, one controlled study found that omega-3 plant sources helped decrease bone breakdown and increase bone formation. Plant sources of omega-3 fats include chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts.
13. Include Foods High in Magnesium and Zinc for strong bones
Calcium isn’t the only mineral that’s important for bone health. Several others also play a role, including magnesium and zinc. Magnesium plays a key role in converting vitamin D into the active form that promotes calcium absorption. An observational study of over 73,000 women found that those who consumed 400 mg of magnesium per day tended to have 2–3% higher bone density than women who consumed half this amount daily. Although magnesium is found in small amounts in most foods, there are only a few excellent food sources. Supplementing with magnesium glycinate, citrate or carbonate may be beneficial. Zinc is a trace mineral needed in very small amounts. It helps make up the mineral portion of your bones. In addition, zinc promotes the formation of bone-building cells and prevents the excessive breakdown of bone. Studies have shown that zinc supplements support bone growth in children and the maintenance of bone density in older adults. Good sources of zinc include beef, shrimp, spinach, flaxseeds, oysters and pumpkin seeds.
14. Foods good for bone strength
Milk for bone strength
Cheese makes bone strong
Consuming egg is good for bones
Though eggs only contain 6% of your daily vitamin D, they’re a quick and easy way to get it. Just don’t opt for egg whites—they may cut calories, but the vitamin D is in the yolk.
Spinach makes bone strong
Don’t eat dairy products? Spinach will be your new favorite way to get calcium. One cup of cooked spinach contains almost 25% of your daily calcium, plus fiber, iron, and vitamin A.
Bone health is important at all stages of life. However, having strong bones is something people tend to take for granted, as symptoms often don’t appear until bone loss is advanced. Fortunately, there are many nutrition and lifestyle habits that can help build and maintain strong bones — and it’s never too early to start.