How to Strengthen Your Bones and Reduce Osteoporosis Risk

Don’t over-supplement, though: Some research suggests that getting too much calcium increases the risk for heart disease in people over 45, and it can increase the risk for kidney stones, too. Jeri Nieves, a clinical epidemiologist and nutrition researcher at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, recommended not consuming more than 2,000 milligrams of calcium a day, either through diet or supplements.

Vitamin D is another key nutrient for bones, in part because it helps the body absorb calcium. According to the National Academy of Medicine, an independent nonprofit organization that provides guidelines on a number of issues, individuals between the ages of 1 and 70 should consume at least 600 international units (IU) per day, while those over 70 should get 800 IU. Foods rich in vitamin D include salmon, sardines, dairy products and fortified juices.

It can be hard to meet our vitamin D needs through dietary sources, so Dr. Horwitz often recommends vitamin D supplements — typically between 800 and 2,000 IU a day — but check with your doctor first. You can get adequate vitamin D from spending about 30 minutes a day in the sun four to five times a week, too, she said, but doing so may be harder if you wear sunscreen.

If you’re not sure whether you’re getting enough vitamin D, ask your doctor for a vitamin D blood test, she recommended. Beware that levels often drop in the winter and spring because we spend less time outdoors — so you may want to supplement in the winter months no matter what.

To maintain strong bones, experts recommended engaging in regular weight-bearing activity such as walking or running. “Walking is a weight-bearing exercise that builds and maintains strong bones and it also increases your muscle strength, coordination and balance, which can help prevent falls and fractures,” Dr. Nieves said.

Many people misinterpret the phrase “weight-bearing exercise” to mean that they should do heavy weight lifting, but that’s not the case, Dr. Horwitz said. To keep your leg, foot and hip bones healthy, all you need is to bear your own body weight as you move around, she explained. That said, to keep the bones in your upper body healthy, strengthening exercises can be helpful, but light weights will suffice, she added.

As for how much activity to aim for, Dr. Nieves cited the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which recommend that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and engage in muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days per week.