Losing Weight? If You’re Not Careful, You Could Lose Bone Mass Too

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but losing weight doesn’t have to.

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For the 65 percent of the U.S. population who are overweight or obese, losing weight is essential for optimal health.

While the notion of “lose weight, be healthier,” seems straightforward enough, it should come with some fine print. Studies have shown than older adults who are trying to drop pounds, especially postmenopausal women, may be at risk of losing bone mass density as the number on the scale inches lower.

Losing too much bone mass can increase your risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis means “porous bone”—it’s a bone disease that occurs when bones deteriorate. As a result, the bones become weak and may break during a fall or, in serious cases, from even innocent causes like bumping into the kitchen counter.

Thankfully, you don’t have to choose between losing weight and keeping your bones healthy. Here’s how you can keep your bones strong while you slim down—and still reach your goal weight.

1. Do weight-bearing exercises. Weight-bearing exercises keep your bones strong by forcing your body to work against gravity. (For example, swimming or using a stationary bike is not considered a weight-bearing exercise.) Weight-bearing exercises include hiking, jogging, or climbing stairs. They are one of the best ways to maintain your bone health.

2. Eat a balanced, calcium- and vitamin D-rich diet. Both calcium and vitamin D are key nutrients for maintaining strong bones. Each day, both women and men should aim for 600 to 800 IU of vitamin D. You can get vitamin D from sunlight or vitamin D-packed foods, like mushrooms or fortified milk. As for calcium, men and women should get about 1000 to 1,200 mg each day. You can get your daily calcium from foods like dairy, as well as leafy green veggies like kale and broccoli.

One food that may be the holy grail for bone health is salmon. Salmon is not only a good source of vitamin D—it boasts about 112 percent of your daily recommended value in just 3 ounces (!!!)—but it also contains calcium.

In fact, vitamin D and calcium are one of the many nutrient pairs that work better together, since vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. So pair up your salmon dinner with calcium-rich leafy greens or vitamin D-rich mushrooms.

3. Lose weight slowly and strength train. While it may be tempting to lose weight fast by crash dieting and burning as much fat as possible with cardio-only workouts, don’t. Losing weight too quickly can cause you to lose more than just fat; you may lose lean muscle too. Losing too much lean tissue can hinder the bone remodeling process, which can affect your bone mineral density.

Losing weight slowly (losing one to two pounds per week) and mixing in muscle-strengthening exercises a couple times a week will help you burn fat but still preserve your precious lean tissue and bone mass. Plus, you’ll get some sexy lean muscles to boot.

Learn six essential habits for losing weight and keeping it off.