Harvard Health Letter

Best ways to keep your bones healthy and strong

Fight back against declining bone density with calcium, vitamin D, and weight-bearing activity.

Disabling fractures of the hip and spine are often the result of osteoporosis, so keeping bones healthy in older age is crucial to protecting mobility and independence. But it takes more than the occasional glass of milk to do the job. "Most people don't really know all they need to do to keep their bones healthy. Increasing awareness is a huge step forward," says Dr. Marcy Bolster, who specializes in treating osteoporosis at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. She recommends the following to help protect bone health.

Detection

"If a person has significant risk factors, it's a good time to check bone density," says Dr. Bolster. That's done with low-level x-rays in a test called a dual energy x-ray absorptiometry scan (DEXA). The findings produce a T-score, which compares one's bone density to that of a person at peak bone density (around age 30). A T-score of –2.5 or lower indicates osteoporosis. A T-score between –1 and –2.5 indicates low bone density. A DEXA scan is typically used after menopause, if significant risk factors are present, or at age 65. Dr. Bolster says the test can be done every two years if needed to monitor bone density.

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