How To Strengthen Bones Naturally: 14 Strategies
It’s easy to forget about or neglect bone health. We often take our bones for granted.
You can see your weight, skin, muscles, and other parts of your body every time you look in the mirror.
Unfortunately, many people neglect bone health while they’re young and pay the price as they reach middle and old age. People don’t realize that your bones stop creating new bone mass by the time you reach about 30.
You can still absorb calcium and replenish your bone storage, but you can’t build new bones.
Fortunately, young women, men, and even postmenopausal women can all take advantage of these tips for avoiding bone loss and building strong bones.
What Factors Increase Your Risk of Osteoporosis?
Certain groups of people have a much higher risk of osteoporosis than others so it’s important to be aware of the specific risk factors.
- Family history: Remember that just because a family member wasn’t officially diagnosed with osteoporosis, that doesn’t mean they didn’t have it. If an elderly family member sustained fractures or broken bones from minor falls, bumps, and injuries, they most likely had osteoporosis.
- Being a woman: Estrogen protects bones and keeps them strong. Drops in estrogen with menopause increase your risk of osteoporosis. Meanwhile, testosterone keeps men’s bones strong and testosterone levels don’t begin to dip until about 50.
- Drinking alcohol
- Lack of physical activity; being bedridden
- Having a small, thin frame
- Thyroid disorders
- Taking certain medications like corticosteroids
- Having your ovaries removed
- Being of European or Asian descent
- Eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia
Osteopenia Vs. Osteoporosis
Essentially, osteopenia is the medical term for weak bones – but aren’t your bones weak when you have osteoporosis, too?
Yes, but there’s a red line: whether or not your bones fracture or break.
When you have osteopenia, your bones have started to turn weak, but they won’t break from mild injuries. You can easily improve bone strength and reverse osteopenia by increasing your calcium intake through diet and supplements.
When you have osteoporosis, however, your bones become so weak and brittle that they will easily fracture or break. That’s why so many elderly women suffer hip fractures from minor slip-and-fall accidents.
Unfortunately, you probably won’t notice you have osteopenia because there aren’t really any symptoms. The only outward symptoms are frequent fractures and by that time, you’ll already have developed osteoporosis.
All hope isn’t lost though. You can ask your doctor about a bone mineral density test. You’ll lie on a table while a machine takes a comprehensive x-ray of your bones. You’ll be able to take home a piece of paper listing your exact bone mineral density and other potential problems like slipped discs or incorrect curvature.
Why Are Strong Bones So Important?
It’s common to forget that bones aren’t static. After all, they feel pretty hard when we bang our elbows on drawers. In reality, they’re made of living tissue.
When you’re in your teens and 20s, your body can make new bone faster than it can break it down. Once you hit about 30, however, your body’s ability to make new bone slows down because you’ve reached peak bone mass.
You can still replenish the empty storage space you’ve already built by consuming enough calcium and important vitamins, but you’ll lose a little more bone mass than you gain each year.
Ironically, a similar process is true of muscles. While your muscle-building potential doesn’t stop after 30, your muscles do begin to deteriorate by 5% every 10 years once you hit this age in a process called sarcopenia.
Strong muscles are vital for improving mobility and supporting balance – both of which help avoid fractures, breaks, and falls.
Not only that but improving muscle mass also improves bone strength and growth.
Strong muscles and strong bones go hand-in-hand.
How to Strengthen Bones Naturally
If you’re in your early 20s or younger, congratulations! You get to start with a clean slate to encourage new bone development before you reach peak bone mass.
Even if you’ve already developed osteopenia, you can still reverse the problem by upping the amount of calcium you consume and taking advantage of the tips below.
Now is always the perfect time to improve bone health.
1. Get Enough Calcium Before You Reach Peak Bone Mass
If you haven’t reached 30 yet and you’re wondering how to strengthen bones, you can start by improving your calcium intake.
Fortunately, you can find good sources of calcium everywhere you look: leafy greens like kale and collard greens, fortified orange juice, fortified cereals with whole grains, cheese – the list goes on.
Young women, older adults, and anyone worried they’re not getting enough calcium should look for a good calcium supplement.
Don’t worry, they’re usually chewable and taste like candy.
2. Take a Vitamin D Supplement
Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium absorption. Did you know that 1 billion people around the world don’t get enough vitamin D? (1) It isn’t easy to find in food either, at least not in adequate amounts.
Doctors recommend exposing your skin to sunlight for 15 minutes each day which makes your body produce vitamin D.
Mushrooms exposed to UV light are a great choice as far as food sources go. Otherwise, your best bet is to take a vitamin D supplement to ensure you’re getting the right amount.
3. Don’t Restrict Your Calories
Although it’s not clear why, low-calorie diets (under 1,000 calories per day) have a negative effect on bone density in people of all sizes.
Even in obese women, restricting calorie intake significantly reduces bone mass as well. If you’re trying to limit your calorie intake, make sure to consume at least 1,200 each day.
4. Take a Collagen Supplement
Collagen is important for cartilage and bone health. Like bone density, it deteriorates with age.
Fortunately, studies show that taking collagen can improve bone mass and strength, especially in postmenopausal women. (2)
5. Consume Enough Magnesium for Stronger Bones
If you didn’t already have enough to worry about with vitamin D, magnesium is also essential for calcium absorption and processing.
Vitamin D and magnesium work in tandem to help your bone cells absorb, process, and store calcium in the right places. Like vitamin D, many people do not get enough magnesium in their diet.
6. Add Weight-Bearing Exercise and Resistance Training to Your Workout
There’s no question about it. If you’re trying to figure out how to strengthen bones, weight-bearing exercise and resistance training are no-brainers. (3)
Studies show that even in older people, weight-bearing exercise improves bone mineral density, strength, and size while limiting bone cell turnover and deterioration.
7. Eat Mushrooms
Mushroom extracts of Maitake and Shiitake have actually been researched for their ability to improve bone formation. (4)
8. Don’t Forget Zinc Help Build Bone
Zinc is yet another mineral that helps your body store calcium and maintain healthy bone mass. Look for good sources of zinc in your diet or choose a supplement.
9. Avoid Drinking Soda
While the jury is still out, research suggests that phosphoric acid in carbonated colas speeds up bone deterioration by leaching calcium out of bones. (5)
10. Maintain a Healthy Body Weight for Strong Bones
While very thin or frail women are the most at-risk for bone loss and reduced strength, obesity can have dangerous effects on bone health as well.
Experts recommend maintaining a healthy and consistent weight. Large fluctuations in weight can also contribute to a loss in bone mineral density.
11. Make High-Calcium Foods a Part of Your Day to Avoid Bone Loss
Your little calcium conveyor belts don’t stop. All-day, every day, your bones are constantly absorbing calcium and removing old bone cells.
Eat calcium throughout the day in dairy products like cheese, leafy greens, fortified dairy replacements, and fortified whole grains.
12. Consume Enough Vitamin K for Healthy Bones
Vitamin K is necessary for preventing bone loss and encouraging new bone development through healthy calcium absorption. You can find vitamin K in cabbage, kale, broccoli, and spinach.
13. Eat Plenty of Protein to Improve Bone Density
Did you know that about half of your bone cells are made from protein? Low levels of dietary protein can slow down calcium absorption. (6, 7)
However, extremely high levels of protein can potentially leach calcium from bones. Experts recommend consuming up to 100 grams each day. That’s the equivalent of about 20 eggs.
14. Don’t Smoke or Drink
Excessive alcohol consumption interferes with your body’s ability to replenish calcium and build bone cells.
Smoking also causes your bone density to deteriorate faster than normal. It’s unclear if vaping or smoking e-cigarettes have the same effect as traditional combustion tobacco.
The Bottom Line on How to Strengthen Bones
Increasing your calcium intake isn’t enough to build strong bones. To improve bone density, you need to consume a wide range of vitamins and minerals while making important lifestyle changes.
Fortunately, it’s really easy to find good sources of calcium and make the changes needed to improve bone strength, avoid falls and fractures, and keep bones healthy.