Boning up

Calcium-rich diet and exercise are key to preventing osteoporosis

By Holly Israel

Boning up

Poor bone health has become a widespread health problem. Instead of enjoying their “golden years,” many seniors face curtailed activities and bouts with fractures.

“More than half of Americans over the age of 50 develop osteoporosis, and it’s four times more common in women than men,” stresses Dr. J. Edward Puzas, a professor of orthopedics at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

Osteoporosis is linked to a lack of dietary calcium, which is critical to bone health. Calcium is used by our body to form and maintain healthy bone tissue, but the average American consumes far less calcium than needed. Exercise is also essential to strong bones. Because 90 percent of our adult bone mass is already formed by the age of 17, healthy diets and active lifestyles are important from an early age.


Daily requirements

Babies 0 to 6 months old need about 210 mg of calcium (if breastfed) and about 350 mg (if bottle fed) daily. Babies 7–12 months old need about 270 mg. Children between 1 and 3 years old need at least 700 mg daily. Youngsters 4 and 8 years old need about 1,000 mg of calcium and kids 9 to 17 need at least 1,300 mg of calcium. From there, calcium needs go up to at least 1,200 mg per day for women and 1,000 mg per day for men ages 51 through age 70. For both groups, from age 70 on, they need at least 1,200 mg per day.

Food sources and supplements

Various foods are high in calcium, such as dairy products, deep green, leafy vegetables, soy, tofu and almonds. Careful attention to food labels shows that certain items, such as some orange juices, cereal and bread, are now fortified with calcium.

To determine how many milligrams per serving is in an item, find calcium listed on the food label, and add a zero to the Daily Value percentage. Many people turn to supplements to ensure enough calcium consumption, but a balanced diet is really better for overall health. Supplements must have added vitamin D, as this aids your body in getting the calcium to your bones. By the way, if you do take supplements, don’t take them all at once because our body can’t utilize more than 500 mg at a time. For example, if you take 1,500 mg at once, your body will only utilize 500 mg and the rest will be cleared through urine.

How exercise helps

Exercise is the second key to bone health because it causes new bone tissue to grow and makes bones stronger. During weight-bearing exercise, muscles push and pull against the attached bones, strengthening them. Walking or running and weight training are great for bone health. Adults need 30 minutes of exercise per day, while children need 60 minutes each day.

Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; National Institute of Child Health & Human Development;

About the Author

Holly Israel writes on general health topics for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
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