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The Best Ways to Build Stronger Bones, Say Experts

A decline in bone health is no joke.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a number of silent epidemics in the U.S. One of them is a decline in bone health. Even before the pandemic, about half of Americans over age 50 were affected by osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones weaken and become more breakable. Two years of delayed screenings and unhealthy lifestyle changes have made bone issues a "global crisis," said E. Michael Lewiecki, director of the New Mexico Clinical Research & Osteoporosis Center, in The Washington Post last month. These are the best ways to build stronger bones, according to experts. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Do Resistance Exercise

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Osteoporosis is common but far from inevitable or unpreventable. The easiest way to stave it off: Getting regular exercise, particularly working out with weights. Several studies have found that resistance exercise—training with free weights, machines, resistance bands, or your own body weight—helps keep bones strong and can actually rebuild bone density.

2

Maintain a Healthy Weight

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Being underweight has long been associated with a risk of lower bone density. But experts say that being overweight may be just as harmful to bone health. According to a new study—which looked at nearly 11,000 adults over eight years—high levels of body fat are associated with lower bone mineral density, particularly in men. "While higher BMI is generally associated with higher bone density, our study demonstrates that lean and fat mass affect bone density differently and that obesity is not a guarantee against osteoporosis," said study author Rajesh K. Jain, MD, an endocrinologist at the University of Chicago. 

3

Get Enough Calcium

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Our bones are constantly breaking down and rebuilding themselves. Calcium is the main building block of bone, so getting enough calcium in your diet is vital to keeping that process moving smoothly. "A diet low in calcium contributes to diminished bone density, early bone loss, and an increased risk of fractures," says the Mayo Clinic. The Office of Dietary Supplements says that adult men 70 and younger should get 1,000 mg of calcium daily between food and supplements, while women should get 1,200 mg. After age 71, men should get 1,200 mg too.

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4

Get Enough Vitamin D

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A nutrient that's nearly as important to bone health: Vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. "Getting enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet can help maintain bone strength and lessen your risk of developing osteoporosis," says the National Institutes of Health. The Office of Dietary Supplements recommends adults age 70 and younger should consume 600 IU of vitamin D daily between food and supplements. People over age 70 should get 800 IU. (However, this recommendation is controversial, and many experts say that should be higher.) 

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5

Pay Attention to Protein Intake

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Protein is another key nutrient for bone health. "Studies have shown inadequate amounts of protein are associated with increased fracture risk, which makes sense, because it makes up a hefty portion of your bones," said Lewiecki. Men older than 50 need 56 grams of protein daily, while women need 46 grams.

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6

Avoid Tobacco and Drink Moderately

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"Research suggests that tobacco use contributes to weak bones," says the Mayo Clinic. "Similarly, regularly having more than one alcoholic drink a day for women or two alcoholic drinks a day for men may increase the risk of osteoporosis." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael
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