• By Talia Follador
  • In Uncategorized
  • May 26, 2020

Building Strong Bones – at Any Age

By Laura Ali, MS, RDN, LDN

I remember the first time I noticed that my grandmother was hunched over and was significantly shorter than I was.  I had gone home to help my mom take her to a doctor’s appointment and as she tried to reach up to give me a hug, I realized what was going on. I had finished school a few years earlier and had been working as a Clinical Dietitian, so I knew about osteoporosis and knew it was common in small-framed, Caucasian women. I also knew it was genetic, and as I leaned down to give her a hug, I knew, yes, it would most likely happen to me.  

So, when I got the news from my doctor a few years ago that I had early-onset osteoporosis, I can’t say I was surprised.  We had been monitoring my bone density because both my mother and my aunt had also been diagnosed with it, so we caught it early, but it still was a bit of a surprise. I did have moments blaming myself for not doing enough when I was young to build my bones up as much as possible.  But I also realized there was still a lot I could do, and I started researching the best ways to slow it and possibly reverse it.  

It is estimated that 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and as our population ages, that number will grow. 50% of women and 25% of men will have a fracture at some point in their life due to osteoporosis.  For women, their risk of breaking a bone due to osteoporosis is the same as their combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer, and for a man it is greater than their risk of prostate cancer.1

We know the best way to prevent osteoporosis is to build bones during childhood and young adult years.  We reach our “peak” bone density in our mid 20’s and then our body starts losing bone mass faster than it can make it. The good news is that whether you are in your teens, twenties or later in life, there are things you can do to build and maintain strong bones.2

5 things you can do NOW to build strong bones

Get Your Dairy In

Calcium and Vitamin D, which are found primarily in dairy products, have been shown to promote peak bone mass in children and young adults, but they are also critical as we age to help support and maintain our bone density. Three servings of dairy-rich foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese are the best sources of these nutrients (for plant-based dairy products, check the label to make sure it has calcium and Vitamin D added.).  It’s best to spread the servings out through the day to maximize the absorption of these nutrients as well.  If you can’t get enough from food, calcium and Vitamin D supplements are also often recommended.  

Adequate Protein

Protein is necessary to maintain bone strength.  Eating a variety of protein choices will provide additional nutrients that may have a role as well, including Zinc, Vitamin B12, Omega 3 fatty acids, and Vitamin D.  2 – 3 servings a day are adequate.  Too much could have reverse effects.

Eat Plenty of Fruits and Vegetables

While Calcium is the main mineral found in our bones and Vitamin D helps it work, others are important for helping those nutrients do their jobs.  Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals like Magnesium (mushrooms, nuts and avocados), Zinc (spinach and other leafy greens), and Vitamin C (citrus fruits, pineapple, strawberries and broccoli).  We are also learning how different antioxidants and phytonutrients may play a role in bone density and maintaining healthy bones.  Foods like dried plums (prunes) have shown promise in protecting bone strength.3 Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is key for maintaining bone strength through life. 

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Staying at a healthy weight and avoiding very low-calorie diets (less than 1000 calories) will help preserve bone mass.  Women who follow very low-calorie diets and who are underweight for their height have been shown to have a greater risk for osteopenia and osteoporosis.  Get adequate calories for your weight and if you need to lose weight, follow a balanced diet at a reasonable calorie level to promote gradual weight loss.  

Daily Exercise

Exercise is important throughout life but has been shown to improve bone strength even in people with osteoporosis. Daily exercise that includes weight-bearing exercises and strength and resistance training helps build bone strength as well as muscle strength. Walking, weightlifting and yoga are all good options that can be done with little equipment and at home.  

There are many things you can do at all stages of your life to improve your bone health.  If you are concerned about your risk for osteoporosis, follow up with your doctor to talk about the best options for you.  

For more information, the National Osteoporosis Foundation is a great resource.  https://www.nof.org/


1 National Osteoporosis Foundation. https://www.nof.org/patients/what-is-osteoporosis/

2Weaver, C. M., Gordon, C. M., Janz, K. F., Kalkwarf, H. J., Lappe, J. M., Lewis, R., O’Karma, M., Wallace, T. C., & Zemel, B. S. (2016). The National Osteoporosis Foundation’s position statement on peak bone mass development and lifestyle factors: a systematic review and implementation recommendations. Osteoporosis international : a journal established as result of cooperation between the European Foundation for Osteoporosis and the National Osteoporosis Foundation of the USA27(4), 1281–1386. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00198-015-3440-3

3 Arjmandi, B. H., Johnson, S. A., Pourafshar, S., Navaei, N., George, K. S., Hooshmand, S., Chai, S. C., & Akhavan, N. S. (2017). Bone-Protective Effects of Dried Plum in Postmenopausal Women: Efficacy and Possible Mechanisms. Nutrients9(5), 496. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9050496


Laura Ali, MS, RDN, LDN is a food and nutrition communications professional, recipe developer and brand ambassador for the StarKist Co. She loves learning about food, exploring how food has shaped our culture, and teaching people how to enjoy the food they eat. On weekends she can be found exploring local food shops, wineries, and walking trails with her husband.  You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @LauraAli_RD or her website: www.onthekitchenshelf.com