Keeping your bones strong is always important—but the task becomes increasingly pressing as we age.
You see, old bone is regularly broken down and replaced with new bone in our body, according to the National Institute on Aging. Until about age 30, bone mass increases—but by our 40s or 50s, more bone may break down than is replaced, which means bones begin to weaken. Older women have the greatest risk of losing significant bone density (leading to a condition called osteoporosis, which greatly increases the risk of fractures), but it’s important for everyone to take steps to protect their bones throughout the years—especially as they near, reach, and surpass middle age.
The good news: There are a handful of lifestyle changes you can make to keep your bones strong and prevent weakness or brittleness down the road. Support your bone health for years to come with the following expert-backed tips.
1. Get more calcium
Remember being told to drink your milk growing up? One reason for the push behind the milk mustache is that the calcium found in the milk helps support strong and healthy bones.
Though calcium is the major building block of our bones,“ the body cannot produce it, making it essential to intake through our diet,” says Ashley Shaw, M.S, R.D., dietitian at Natus Wellness. “When the body needs calcium for other functions, such as muscle contraction and blood clotting, and there is not enough available from our diet, it will take the calcium from our bones.” Over time, this can contribute to weakened, brittle bones.
While all adult men and women ages 19 to 50 need about 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, women ages 51 to 70 need 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day, per the National Institute of Health. This is because older women tend to face the greatest losses in bone mass—and require extra calcium to support them, says Shaw.
Read More: 6 Calcium-Packed Foods That Aren’t Dairy
Luckily, in addition to milk, dark leafy green vegetables, fish, and dried beans, calcium is also easy to take in supplement form, Shaw adds.
2. Load Up on vitamin D
“Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it can store up in the body over time. When your diet is low in vitamin D, though, those fatty stores become depleted,” Shaw explains. Since vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption, low vitamin D levels lead to low calcium, which contributes to poor bone density, she adds.
Adults need about 600 IU (or 15 micrograms) of vitamin D per day—and research suggests approximately 40 percent of the U.S. population is deficient. Many of us turn to supplements to meet our daily needs, but you can also find some in fortified milk, mushrooms, and eggs. Sun exposure is also a popular way to soak up vitamin D.
Along with calcium, vitamin D helps protect older adults from osteoporosis. Adults ages 50-71 should get 600 IU (15 micrograms) of vitamin D and adults ages 70+ should get 800 IU (20 micrograms) of vitamin D per day to avoid the risk of poor bone health and osteoporosis, Shaw says. However, if you have existing bone health concerns, talk to your healthcare provider as vitamin D dosage can vary, she adds.
3. Do Resistance Training
Physical activity comes in many different forms, but whatever flavor you engage in does your health a solid in a number of ways. Yep, that might just include keeping your bones strong, too.
In fact, according to the National Institute of Health, younger people who exercise frequently build greater bone density and strength than those who do not. And once we reach age 30, continuing to move often helps prevent the bone loss most people experience as they age, adds physical therapist Dr. Chad Walding, D.P.T, co-founder of NativePath.
The best type of workouts for strengthening bones? Resistance training, which has been shown to help build and maintain bone density. “For seniors, in particular, weight-bearing exercises will help improve bone density and prevent osteoporosis. And it doesn’t have to be heavy weights that you lift; you can strengthen a lot by using just a little more than bodyweight,” Walding says. Though training with weights or resistance bands is ideal, walking, dancing, and jogging are also considered weight-bearing activities.
Read More: The 6 Best Exercises For Strong Bones
Though the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends all adults do two days of moderate-intensity full-body strength exercises per week, it’s important to start slow and ramp up over time, according to Walding.
Plus, if you already have existing bone health concerns, such as osteoporosis, Walding recommends talking to your healthcare provider and a certified fitness professional about your workout routine before engaging in high-impact exercises like jumping in order to avoid injury.
4. Avoid smoking and limit drinking
The many health issues caused by smoking and excessive drinking are well known at this point—and they include taking a toll on your bones.
Smoking, for one, is linked to decreased bone density and is considered a high-risk factor for osteoporosis. Chronic alcohol use, meanwhile, impacts the balance of calcium within the body, affects vitamin D production, and impacts hormones that are important for bone health, according to the National Institutes of Health. Alcohol competes with calcium for absorption, and so excessive drinking can lead to an increased risk of bone damage, Shaw says.
“Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol consumption as part of a healthy lifestyle can help prevent the development of osteoporosis,” Shaw says. The US Dietary Guidelines recommend women stick to one serving of alcohol per day, while men limit themselves to two.
5. Increase Your collagen Intake
Collagen is “the glue that holds the skin together,” Shaw says, and it’s not only beneficial for your skin but for your bones, as well.
The most abundant protein in our body, collagen performs many functions, including inducing the production of new bone, Walding says. The thing is, “after age 25, collagen levels deplete one percent each year, resulting in poor bone health and reduced mineral density,” he explains.
In order to increase collagen production in the body, Shaw recommends eating high-quality collagen-rich foods such as bone broth and consuming enough protein from sources like chicken, fish, and eggs.
Of course, you can also find collagen in supplement form, often as a powder, gummies, or in capsules. Though there is no general daily recommended amount of collagen to consume each day, one 2018 study of over 131 postmenopausal women found that those who supplemented with five grams of collagen a day for a year experienced increased bone density and reduced bone degradation.