Maintaining Bone Health Is Vital as We Age — Here Are 4 Simple Ways To Do It

Keeping our bones strong and healthy is essential, especially after menopause, when the bone disease osteoporosis (which causes bones to become weaker and prone to breakage) becomes more common. Strong bones not only protect us from fractures when we fall and help us stand tall, they also offer benefits for other bodily systems. Higher bone density is associated with improved lung function, decreased back pain, and even a lower risk of hearing loss. Clearly, bones are a foundational part of full-body health. If you're looking for strategies to naturally build up your bones, check out these four simple, science-backed ideas.

1. Eat more tomatoes.

Lycopene, the plant pigment (known as a carotenoid) that gives tomatoes their red hue, inhibits the action of bone-degrading cells called osteoclasts. Indeed, a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a diet high in carotenoids was associated with higher bone density.

Want the most bang for your buck? Cook your tomatoes. Lycopene is higher in cooked tomatoes since heat releases the nutrient from tomato cells. (It turns out, long-simmering tomato sauce doesn't just taste great, it also may help your bones.) For bonus benefits: When salads and salsa call for raw veggies, consider adding avocado oil. This healthy source of fat significantly enhances carotenoid absorption.

2. Drink less alcohol.

While it's fine to occasionally enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, it's important to not consume too much alcohol. Heavy drinking has many detrimental effects on health, and these extend to your bones. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism warns that drinking too heavily may compromise bone health and increase your risk of osteoporosis. While additional research into the mechanism by which alcohol specifically targets bones is needed, its been shown that heavy alcohol use may ultimately decrease bone density and weaken bones.

3. Try weight-bearing activities.

You already know that staying active is of vital importance, and it turns out movement isn't just good for losing weight — it helps maintain bone health too. Whether you shovel snow or tote groceries from your car to your kitchen, small bursts of exercise bolster bone density. A review in the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine states that physical activities (particularly ones which involve bearing weight) are effective in enhancing bone health. And don't worry, this doesn't mean you have to start lifting super-heavy barbells — the National Institutes of Health recommends activities like walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, playing tennis, and dancing in addition to weight training. Brief bouts of bearing weight exert a form of beneficial stress on bones that helps spur their growth.

4. Boost your vitamin K-2 intake.

We know calcium keeps bones strong — that’s why experts recommend you get at least 1,200 milligrams of the mineral daily. But vitamin K-2 is also essential, as it binds calcium to bone. If your calcium or vitamin K-2 levels are low, add sauerkraut, egg yolks, and chicken to your diet — all of which contain the nutrient. Or you might consider supplementing with MK-7, a form of K-2 that’s readily used by the body. Research in the European Journal of Endocrinology found women who did so had greater bone density than those who didn’t supplement.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman's World.