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Osteoporosis prevention

A person's risk of developing osteoporosis may be pre-programmed into their genes but can also be influenced by the effect of diet, exercise and spending some time in the sun to help keep bones healthy.

What is my personal risk of osteoporosis?

Women are at a greater risk of osteoporosis because of changes in hormone levels that affect bone density, especially after the menopause.

One test to help evaluate osteoporosis risk is a bone density DXA test.

How important is regular exercise for preventing osteoporosis?

It's recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, spread over as many days as possible, for good health and to strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis. Weight-bearing exercises force your body to resist gravity and stimulate cells in the body that make new bone.

Strength training causes the muscles to pull on the bone. This results in increased bone strength. Strength training also increases flexibility, improves balance and reduces the likelihood of falling - the number one risk factor for hip fracture.

The following examples of weight-bearing and strengthening exercises can help keep your bones strong:

  • Aerobics
  • Climbing stairs
  • Dancing
  • Jogging
  • Racquet sports
  • Running
  • T’ai chi
  • Walking
  • Water aerobics
  • Yoga

These exercises will not only help you improve your muscle strength, they will also help strengthen your bones:

  • Lifting tins of food or bags of groceries
  • Lifting free weights
  • Lifting young children
  • Using ankle and wrist weights
  • Using elastic resistance bands
  • Using weight machines
  • Using your own weight as resistance
  • Working out with barbells

Why are calcium and vitamin D important for strong bones?

If you don't get enough calcium every day through diet or supplements, your body may become deficient in this mineral. Then your body will break down the bones to replenish it and bone loss will increase. The recommended calcium intake for adults is 700mg of calcium, the equivalent of a pint of milk.

You can also get calcium from:

  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products
  • Calcium-fortified juices and food
  • Sardines with bones
  • Certain vegetables
  • Soya products fortified with calcium
  • Calcium supplements

Vitamin D is also important to absorb calcium. Most vitamin D is made in the skin on exposure to sunlight. Ten minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen twice a day during the summer – taking care the skin doesn’t redden or burn -- helps top up the body with enough vitamin D, but sunlight is not strong enough in the UK between October and March. Vitamin D is also found in oily fish, liver, fortified spreads and cereals, and egg yolks.

Since the summer of 2016, health officials are now recommending people get 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day though their diet or supplements.

The UK's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) made the recommendation after reviewing all the evidence on vitamin D and health. It couldn’t determine how much vitamin D we get though skin being exposed to the sun - so instead focuses on diet.

It is hard to get the daily amount of vitamin D needed from food, so most adults and children aged 4 and over are asked to consider supplements containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day during autumn and winter.

Supplements are recommended all year round for people with dark skin, including people from African, African-Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds.

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