This Is the #1 Sign of Healthy Bones, According to Endocrinologists

Woman over 50 working out at home

When you visualize yourself in your golden years, what do you look like? No one wants to be so frail in their later years that they aren’t able to fully enjoy life. Healthy bones are critical for being able to move through your days pain free and it’s never too early—or too late—to prioritize bone health.

What’s tricky about bone health is that, often, bones weaken and become more fragile without any symptoms—until something drastic happens, like a fracture. With this in mind, it’s helpful to know what the signs of healthy bones are and what to do if you realize your bones are becoming more fragile with age.

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The #1 Sign of Healthy Bones, According to Endocrinologists

Since weakening bones often go undetected, Dr. Heather L. Hofflich, DO, an endocrinologist at UC San Diego Health, says that the number one way people can know how healthy their bones are is to get a bone density scan, also known as a DEXA scan. It’s recommended that every woman 65 and older, younger women who are at risk for osteoporosis and men 70 and older get a DEXA scan every two years.

Dr. Sarah Fishman, MD, PhD, an endocrinologist in New York City, agrees that a bone density scan is the best way to know how healthy your bones are. “Unfortunately, osteoporosis and osteopenia are often silent conditions. Most people don't feel anything in their bones until they fracture. Similarly, strong bones don't feel differently from weak bones,” she says.

However, Dr. Fishman explains that there is one early sign that bones are weakening, saying, “Losing height or shrinking can be a sign that your bones are weakening."

While some people believe that a decreasing wrist circumference is a sign of weakening bones, Dr. Fishman says that this is a less accurate sign than losing height.

Related: The #1 Strength Training Exercise for Bone Health, According to Personal Trainers for Seniors

What To Do if Your Bones Are Showing Signs of Weakening

If you do notice that your height is decreasing or your DEXA scan shows that your bones aren’t as strong as they should be, it’s important to take action to prevent further bone damage. Dr. Hofflich says that there are actions everyone can take to prevent osteoporosis. One important action is getting enough calcium.

It’s recommended to consume between 1,000 milligrams and 1,300 milligrams of calcium each day, depending on your age and sex. Foods high in calcium include yogurt, fortified orange juice, sardines, salmon, tofu and spinach. If you aren’t getting enough calcium through diet alone, Dr. Hofflich says that it can be beneficial to take a calcium supplement.

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Dr. Hofflich explains that it’s also important to get enough vitamin D, another nutrient that supports bone health. If you don’t spend a lot of time outdoors or live in a place that isn’t particularly sunny, consider taking a supplement. The National Institutes of Health recommends getting between 600 and 800 microunits of vitamin D a day, depending on your age and sex.

Last, both doctors say that it’s important to engage in weight-bearing exercises for at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week. This includes exercise such as walking, running, lifting weights, tennis and yoga. “If you already have osteoporosis and are experiencing fractures, just do what you can,” Dr. Hofflich says.

If you already have osteoporosis, talk to your healthcare provider to find out if a prescription medication can help. “Oftentimes, it is possible to increase bone density with medications. There are medications that will more actively build up bone density, and medications that will help slow down the destructive processes that lead to weaker bones,” Dr. Fishman explains, adding that whether medication can help or not depends on the age of the patient and other medical conditions.

Don’t wait until something major happens—like a bone fracture—to prioritize bone health. If you are older than 65, make sure you’re getting a bone density scan every two years to check in on your bones. Getting older does not have to mean becoming frail. You can be strong your entire life!

Next up, see five myths about osteoporosis that doctors wish everyone would stop believing.