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Protect Your Bones At Every Age

From the Surgeon General's 2004 Report: "Bone Health: What It Means To You"
(Current as of August 2010)

People of all ages need to know what they can do to have strong bones. You are never too old or too young to improve your bone health.


Bone growth starts before babies are born. Premature and low-birth-weight infants often need extra calcium, phosphorus, and protein to help them catch up on the nutrients they need for strong bones. Breastfed babies get the calcium and nutrients they need for good bone health from their mothers. That’s why mothers who breastfeed need extra vitamin D. Most baby formula contains calcium and vitamin D.


Good bone health starts early in life with good habits. While children and young adults rarely get bone diseases, kids can develop habits that endanger their health and bones. Parents can help by encouraging kids to eat healthful food and get at least an hour of physical activity every day. Jumping rope, running, and sports are fun activities that are great for building strong bones. Children need the amount of calcium equal to 3 servings of low-fat milk each day. If your child doesn’t drink enough milk, try low-fat cheese, yogurt, or other foods that are high in calcium.


Teens are especially at risk for not developing strong bones because their bones are growing so rapidly. Boys and girls from ages 9 to 18 need 1,300 milligrams of calcium each day, more than any other age group. Parents can help teens by making sure they eat 4 servings of calcium-rich and vitamin-D-fortified foods a day. At least one hour a day of physical activities — like running, skateboarding, sports, and dance — is also critical. Studies show that only half of all teens exercise vigorously on a regular basis, and one-fourth do not exercise at all. But take note: extreme physical exercise, when combined with under-eating, can weaken teens’ bones. In young women this situation can lead to a damaging lack of menstrual periods. Teens who miss adding bone to their skeletons during these critical years never make it up.


Adulthood is a time when we need to look carefully at our bone health. As adults, we need 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium, depending on our age, and at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. Activity that puts some stress on your bones is very important.

Many women over 50 are at risk for bone disease, but few know it. At menopause, which usually happens in women over 50, a woman’s hormone production drops sharply. Because hormones help protect bones, menopause can lead to bone loss. Hormone therapy was widely used to prevent this loss, but now it is known to increase other risks. Your doctor can help advise you on protecting bone health around menopause.


Seniors can take steps to help prevent bone problems. Physical activity and diet are vital to bone health in older adults. Calcium, together with vitamin D, helps reduce bone loss. Activities that put stress on bones keep them strong. Find time for activities like walking, dancing, and gardening. Strengthening your body helps prevent falls. Protecting yourself against falls is key to avoiding a broken hip or wrist. All women over 65 should have a bone density test. Seniors should also know that recent studies conclude that anyone over age 50 should increase his or her vitamin D intake to 400 International Units (IU) per day. After age 70, 600 IU per day are needed.

Last updated August 2, 2010

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