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5 Lifestyle Steps for Better Bone Health

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

Bone Health Step 1: Calcium and Vitamin D continued...

Check the supplement's label before buying. Look for either "pharmaceutical grade" or "USP (United States Pharmacopeia) standards. This will ensure high-quality pills that will dissolve in your system. "Even generic brands are fine if they have that information," Diemer advises. 

Don't forget vitamin D. Most calcium pills -- and most multivitamins -- contain vitamin D. However, you can get vitamin D in food (fortified dairy products, egg yolks, saltwater fish like tuna, and liver). Research suggests that vitamin D3 supplements may be a little bit better absorbed and retained than Vitamin D2.

If you're taking osteoporosis medications, take calcium, too. "A lot of patients think if they start treatment they don't need calcium," she adds. "That's not true, and physicians often don't emphasize the point."

Take prescription calcium if necessary. In some cases, doctors prescribe higher-strength calcium and vitamin D tablets.

Bone Health Step 2: Weight-Bearing Exercise

Calcium supplements and osteoporosis medications can stop bone loss -- which allows the bone to rebuild itself, Diemer explains. "But the body needs 'encouragement' to rebuild bone," she adds. "The skeleton needs to be under stress so it will get stronger."  That's why exercise is important for better bone health.

Be sure to talk with your doctor before you begin any exercise regimen. Here are some types of exercises your doctor may suggest.

Make walking a daily ritual. Walking, jogging, and light aerobics make your bones and muscles work against gravity -- which puts stress on the skeleton, which strengthens bones. Bicycling is also good for bones; it offers some resistance, which improves muscle mass and strengthens bones.

Swimming, however, is not a good bone-booster, says Diemer. "Swimming is great for joints if you have arthritis, but it's not doing anything for osteoporosis. With swimming, the skeleton is comfortable so it is not working to hold itself up."

She advises 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise five days a week if you can. "I'm satisfied if they get 30 minutes, three times a week."

Core strengthening is critical, too. Abdominal exercises, lower back exercises, yoga, Pilates, and tai chi help strengthen the spine. "All that stuff is great, because the most common fractures are in the spine," Diemer tells WebMD. "Strengthening muscles to the spine gives more support to the spine. The other thing about yoga, Pilates, and tai chi -- they improve balance, which prevents falls."

Tell your instructor that you have osteoporosis. If you're taking yoga or Pilates, make sure you have a certified instructor. You need close supervision to make sure you don't harm yourself.

Bone Health Step 3: Don't Smoke & Moderate Alcohol

"Nicotine is toxic to bone," Diemer tells WebMD. "The first thing I tell patients who smoke is, if you don't stop smoking there's very little we can do for your bones. You counteract all medications."

Alcohol in moderation is fine, but just one or two drinks a week, she advises. "Alcohol in excess causes about 2% bone loss in a year's time. Nicotine also causes 2% bone loss. If you're having alcohol and nicotine both in excess, the combined bone loss is actually doubled -- 8% bone loss."

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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

How do you exercise for strong bones?