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Low-Cost Ways to Protect Your Bones

Exercise, vitamin D and calcium, and proper testing help those at risk for osteoporosis -- and won't break the bank.


If you're postmenopausal, you should also be getting 1,200 milligrams of daily calcium, and 1,000 milligrams if you're pre-menopausal.

  • Exercise: Here's the good news: The best exercise for maintaining your bone mass costs you nothing, other than maybe a good pair of shoes. It's walking, as little as 3-5 miles a week.

    "The pounding on the pavement as you walk increases muscle tone and maintains bone density," says Holick. "No other type of exercise does this as well."

    If you're looking to increase (not just maintain) bone density, you can't hope to increase your bone density through exercise -- not unless you stress yourself abnormally (think super weightlifter-type workouts) -- but it can help you keep the bone that you have. Jogging, stair climbing, and other types of weight-bearing exercise are also effective.

    Strength training is the other half of the exercise equation. It maintains and possibly even improves bone mineral density, according to several studies, according to results from the Bone, Estrogen, and Strength (BEST) study funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).

    You don't have to join a pricey gym to get strength-training benefits. A few inexpensive hand weights or a rubber tubing used for resistance exercises are all you need. A simple program with one or two exercises for each muscle group is fine. Ask your doctor for some sample exercises.

    You can also order the National Osteoporosis Foundation's BoneWise™ exercise video from its web site ( (be sure to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program, especially if you've had falls, fractures, or other injuries).

  • Testing: Bone density screening is the best way to assess the health of your bones. But will your insurance coverage pay for it? The answer is yes and no, says Holick. "If you're 50 to 55 years of age and perimenopausal, bone density screening provides an important baseline, but insurance coverage is spotty."

    Many insurers won't cover bone density screening for women under 65 (the age at which the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends regular screening begin for all women) unless you have one or more additional risk factors. Be sure your doctor and your insurer know if you have any of these risk factors:

    • Being postmenopausal, and/or early onset of menopause
    • Smoking
    • Family history of osteoporosis or fractures
    • Low weight/having a thin frame
    • Using corticosteroids for longer than three months
    • Late onset of menstrual periods
    • History of anorexia or bulimia
    • Excessive alcohol intake
    • Low intake of calcium or vitamin D
    • Taking certain medications, such as some cancer drugs, thyroid drugs, and anticonvulsants-ask your doctor

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