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Building good bones starts early. By age 20, we’ve acquired as much as 90% of our peak bone mass. In most women, bones reach their maximum strength and density between about age 20 and 30.

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From then on, bone strength and density start to decline. It’s a slow process at first, but it gets kick-started by menopause in women. The stronger your bones are to start with, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to reduce your risks for osteoporosis later in life.

A lot of things can affect your peak bone mass. Some of them you can change, and some of them you can’t.

  • Gender: Women tend to have less bone mass than men do.
  • Race: Women of African descent have higher bone mass than Caucasian and Asian women.
  • Nutrition: If you don’t get enough calcium when you’re young, it can reduce your peak bone mass by as much as 5% to 10%.
  • Exercise: Regular, weight-bearing exercise helps to strengthen your bones.
  • Smoking: Smoking has been linked to lower bone density.

One of the best things you can do to maintain good bone health is to eat a diet rich in calcium starting at a young age. You should also make sure you get enough vitamin D, which helps your body use the calcium it takes in. How much calcium should you be getting? Check these daily calcium intake recommendations to see how you compare:

  • Teenagers: 1,300 mg
  • Women and men 19-50: 1,000 mg
  • Women over 50: 1,200 mg
  • Men 50-70: 1,000 mg
  • Men over 70: 1,200 mg

Try adding some of these great sources of calcium to your menu:

  • Plain yogurt: 415 mg per 8-ounce serving
  • Low-fat milk: 300 mg per 8-ounce serving
  • Fortified orange juice: 378 mg per 6-ounce serving
  • Cheddar cheese: 306 mg per 1.5-ounce serving
  • Salmon: 181 mg per 3-ounce serving

Men and women between the ages of 50 and 70 should be getting 600 IU of vitamin D each day. People older than age 70 should get 800 IU of vitamin D daily.

If you’re not getting all the calcium and vitamin D that you need in your diet, a supplement can help make up the difference. Consult with your doctor before choosing a dietary supplement; your doctor will help you determine the correct dose and type of calcium to take.