How to Boost Your Bone Health

Osteoporosis is rapidly on the rise.
Adult woman buys vegetable at grocery store

Over the next 10 years, osteoporosis rates are expected to soar. The cause for the increase in the brittle-bone disease is multifold, from an aging population to increased obesity rates and sedentary lifestyles. Even pollution is expected to play a role; its nitrous oxide can undermine bone density.

But experts say we’ll also see corresponding medical advancements: We’ll have better diagnostic tools to detect who is at higher risk for fractures, and artificial intelligence will help create tailor-made treatments for individual patients.

In the meantime, there are proactive steps you can take right now to reduce your risk of fractures for osteoporosis later.

Are You at Risk for Osteoporosis?

Nearly 10 million Americans over age 50 are currently living with osteoporosis. But it can go unnoticed until you break your hip, spine or wrist.

“It's never too early to start thinking about bone health,” says Joyce Huang, a clinical dietitian at University of Vermont Medical Center.

Your risk for osteopetrosis is higher depending on your sex, age, race and family history.

  • Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men.
  • Age is a factor. For many women, the disease begins to develop around menopause when bone-protecting estrogen levels drop.
  • You’re at greater risk if you're white or of Asian descent.
  • Family history plays a part. If your parent or sibling had osteoporosis, you’re at greater risk. You’re also at risk if your mother or father has fractured a hip.


5 Ways to Keep Your Bones Healthy

Bone health peaks around age 30. A combination of age-related changes, lack of physical activity and less-than-optimal nutrition can gradually reduce bone mass by 1% per year after age 40. 

The good news is that healthy eating, strength training and essential minerals and vitamins can help prevent bone loss as you age. Here are some proactive steps you can take to help make sure you stay strong as long as possible.

1. Incorporate healthy foods into everyday life.

Whole foods like fruit, vegetables, beans and meat are the most nutrient-rich. Olive oil, soybeans, blueberries and foods packed with omega-3s – like fish oil and flaxseed oil – can also help promote bone health. 

“Whole foods are the best sources of calcium, vitamin D and magnesium — all things important for bone health,” Huang says.

2. Start strength training and resistance training.

Strength training with free weights, weight machines or resistance bands helps build muscle and stronger bones.

Using weights or resistance bands offers benefits that aerobic training can't alone. Strength training targets the bones of the hips, spine, and wrists — the places on your body most likely to fracture.

Another benefit of strength and resistance training is that your balance will likely improve, reducing the chance of falls and fractures.

3. Get calcium, through dairy or not.

Calcium hardens and strengthens bone, making it one of your most essential nutrients. The trouble is that is that calcium is less readily by our bodies as we age, and we can’t make it ourselves That’s why incorporating calcium-rich foods or supplements can help.

You can find calcium in dairy products such as yogurt, milk and cheese. But it’s also available in calcium-rich foods like broccoli, almonds, tofu, salmon and sardines.

Calcium supplements are another option. For women over 50 and men over 71, Huang suggests 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily through both food and supplements. Adults outside those age brackets should aim for 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day.

4. Don't forget about vitamin D.

Vitamin D (and sunlight in general) can be hard to come by in our region, especially in winter. And as we get older, our skin doesn't absorb vitamin D from sunlight as well as it used to.

“Even when you do get enough sunlight, the process becomes less efficient as we age,” Huang says.

Many foods are fortified with vitamin D, such as dairy products, plant-based milks and cereals. Fish and egg yolks are sources of naturally occurring vitamin D.

For most older adults in our region, whose sunlight exposure may be limited during winter months, the best way to get enough vitamin D is by taking a supplement. Huang says the recommended amount is between 400 and 1,000 units daily.

5. Make room for magnesium.

Magnesium is an essential mineral for bone health as it contributes to increased bone density. Still, research is limited on the role magnesium supplements play in preventing the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.

Instead of supplements, try incorporating magnesium-containing foods into your diet, like nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes.

Use Caution When Taking Supplements

The FDA does not regulate supplements, so choose one that uses third-party testing. Huang advises to look for certifications on the bottle label from places like United States Pharmacopeia or National Sanitation Foundation.

“When taking supplements, make sure you use a reputable brand,” Huang says.

Healthy Recipe Reduces Inflammation

Use your favorite fish and whatever quick-cooking seasonal vegetables you have on hand. Salmon and other cold-water fish including sardines and anchovies, deliver powerful omega-3s and calcium to support bone health and help reduce inflammation.

Steamed Fish en Papillote

Download the recipe card.

Serves 4


4 boneless fish filets, each 3-5 ounces (salmon, halibut, cod or tilapia)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

1 small lemon, lime or orange, thinly sliced

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as thyme, parsley, cilantro or mint

1/2 cup any of the following (optional): pitted and halved Kalamata olives, finely chopped tomatoes, thinly sliced green onions, grated zucchini or carrots


  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Place each fish filet in the center of a 13-inch square of parchment paper. Season fish with salt and pepper and drizzle with oil.
  3. Arrange citrus slices down the length of each filet, sprinkle with herbs and scatter additional ingredients, if using, over the top.
  4. Lift the parchment paper on 2 opposite sides to meet in the middle above fish. Tightly fold down paper until it reaches fish, crimping to seal.
  5. Place the packets on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until fish is just cooked through, about 10-12 minutes for thin fillets like tilapia, and 14-16 minutes for thicker fillets like salmon, halibut and cod.
  6. Transfer packets to plates, carefully (hot!) unwrap and serve.


Love Food and Recipes?

Visit the UVM Medical Center Culinary Medicine team online for tasty recipes and downloadable recipe cards. You can also visit our “What’s That Food” playlist on YouTube for delicious recipe videos featuring fresh, seasonal produce and simple growing tips.

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