Proper Nutrition for Lifelong Bone Health

As we age, we tend to lose bone density. Too much bone loss can result in osteoporosis, a progressive condition that makes bones porous and brittle. If you have osteoporosis, you have a higher risk for fragility fractures, which often result from falls that seem insignificant — like slips or trips while walking, or other stresses.  

“Annually, 50 percent of women over 50, and 25 percent of men over 50, will experience a broken bone from osteoporosis,” says Kristie Jones, PA-C, an orthopaedic physician assistant with ProMedica Physicians. “The number of women over 50 who will fracture a hip is surprisingly greater than the combined number of women who will develop breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.”  

Taking preventive measures early on, including proper nutrition, bone-building exercises and improving balance, can keep your bones strong and help prevent falls and fractures.  

“And that’s crucial since twenty-five percent of people over 50 who fracture a hip die within a year,” says Jones. “Once you’ve fractured a hip, you can’t get around as much, you might not be able to eat correctly and you may need hip surgery. It just becomes harder to pick up where you left off.”  

Nutrients to Keep Your Bones Healthy 

Osteoporosis can result from having too little calcium and vitamin D, smoking, excessive alcohol use, and even long-term use of steroid medications, including those used to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  

Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements may be beneficial in helping to prevent osteoporosis. Just remember to talk with your primary care provider before taking any supplements. 


Because your body can absorb only a certain amount of calcium at a time, consider taking one 600 milligram (mg) tablet twice a day, for 1,200mg. If your diet already includes good calcium sources, consider taking only 600mg daily. Take 2,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily. Be sure to look for the USP mark on any supplements you get. Since 1820, U.S. Pharmacopeia has ensured standards of ingredient levels, quality and safety. 

Calcium supplement pills can cause constipation, and the large pills may be hard to swallow. Chewable gummy types of calcium may be more tolerable and easier to swallow. You can also try calcium citrate or liquid calcium supplements.  

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps you absorb calcium. You can get vitamin D from being out in the sun, from supplements and from a few foods, including:  

  • Eggs and egg yolks. 
  • Fortified cereals. 
  • Salmon. 
  • Mackerel. 
  • Trout.  

If You’re Lactose-Intolerant

Although dairy foods like whole milk, cream, yogurt and cheese are high in calcium, they’re not an option if you’re lactose intolerant. That said, you still have plenty of food options, including foods fortified with calcium and Vitamin D. These include: 

  • Almond milk. 
  • Cooked beans. 
  • Cereals. 
  • Hard cheeses like swiss, parmesan and cheddar. 
  • Leafy greens like kale or spinach. 
  • Nuts like almonds, pistachios and walnuts. 
  • Oranges and orange juice. 
  • Seafood such as salmon, canned tuna or shrimp. 
  • Yogurt with active cultures. 

“Our hope,” says Jones, “is that those with lactose intolerance in future generations can get some of these foods in their diet from a young age. This can help improve bone density early on, compared to people who are 50 and older who didn’t have these fortified food options when they were younger.” 

Exercise and Balance for Bone Health

In addition to diet, exercise can help build your bone density, but it’s important you do the right kind of exercise. When it comes to your bone health, walking and weightlifting are good options, because you’re putting weight on your bones. Other lower-impact exercises aren’t as effective. 

“Even though swimming and water aerobics can help relieve joint pain from arthritis,” says Jones, “they’re not as good for the bones because they’re low impact. You’re not putting your weight on your bones like you would with other exercise.” 

Age also affects our sense of balance. To strengthen your muscles, increase your endurance, and restore or strengthen your sense of balance, try exercises like knee curls, leg stretches and yoga. “You can also sign up for balance classes at a gym or community center, sometimes free through Medicare,” says Jones. 

Kristie Jones, PA-C, is an orthopaedic surgeon with ProMedica Physicians Orthopaedic Surgery – Adrian.