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5 Lifestyle Steps for Better Bone Health

Maximize bone health and reduce the effects of osteoporosis with these simple steps.
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WebMD Feature

If your doctor says you have thinning bones -- osteopenia or osteoporosis-- it's critical to take steps to slow the progression of this disease.  

Calcium, exercise, no smoking, no excess drinking, bone density tests -- all these are necessary, says Kathryn Diemer, MD, professor of medicine and osteoporosis specialist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.   

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"These are basic things that all women should do," Diemer tells WebMD. But they’re especially important for women with low bone density. While you can never regain the bone density you had in your youth, you can help prevent rapidly thinning bones, even after your diagnosis.

Here’s a breakdown of five lifestyle steps to help you on the road to better bone health.

Bone Health Step 1: Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium builds strong bones, but vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. That's why postmenopausal women need 1,200 milligrams calcium and at least 400 IU to 600 IU vitamin D daily for better bone health.

"Any patient being treated for osteoporosis should have both calcium and vitamin D levels checked in blood tests," says Diemer.

Most American women get less than 500 milligrams of calcium in their daily diet. "Sun exposure helps produce vitamin D, but as we get older, our skin is not as efficient at making vitamin D. Also, if we're careful to use sunscreen, we're at risk of having low vitamin D level."

Here are ways to give your body a boost of both calcium and vitamin D: 

Calcium in food: We know that dairy has calcium, but other foods do, too.

  • Low-fat milk or soy milk (8 ounces): 300 milligrams calcium
  • Cottage cheese (16 ounces): 300 milligrams calcium
  • Low-fat yogurt (8 ounces): 250-400 milligrams calcium
  • Canned salmon (3 ounces): 180 milligrams calcium
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice (6 ounces): 200 milligrams-260 milligrams calcium
  • Cooked spinach, turnip greens, collard greens (1/2 cup): 100 milligrams calcium
  • Cooked broccoli (1/2 cup) 40 milligrams calcium

A calcium supplement may be necessary to make sure that you're getting enough, says Diemer.

Calcium supplements:  All the calcium bottles on store shelves can be confusing. Basically, there are two types of calcium -- calcium carbonate and calcium citrate -- that can be purchased over the counter.

  • Calcium carbonate must be taken with food for the body to absorb it. Many women have side effects from calcium carbonate -- gastrointestinal upset, gassiness, and constipation, Diemer tells WebMD. If you take calcium carbonate with magnesium, however, you won't likely have the constipation. "It acts just like Milk of Magnesia and seems to help move things through."

Certain medications can interfere with absorption of calcium carbonate -- including Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, and others used to treat acid reflux (GERD) or peptic ulcers. If you take those medications, you should probably take calcium citrate.

  • Calcium citrate is generally well tolerated, and can be taken without food. You might need to take more than one pill to get the recommended dosage, so take them at separate times -- to help your body absorb the calcium. If you take more than about 500 milligrams of calcium at one time your body will simply pass it as waste.
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Osteoporosis Glossary

  • Bone Mineral Density - A measurement of the amount of calcium and minerals in bone tissue.
  • Calcium - A mineral in (and vital to) your bones. If your body lacks calcium, it takes it from bones.
  • DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) - a test used to measure bone mineral density.
  • Osteoporosis - A decrease in bone density, which increase the risk of fractures.
  • Vitamin D - A vitamin that helps your body absorb calcium.
  • View All Terms

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