Bone often looks lifeless as a rock—especially in cartoon skeletons. But just like the rest of your body, bone is actually living tissue that’s constantly changing and replacing itself with new bone cells.
This process of swapping out old bone cells with new ones is called bone remodeling. When you’re younger, you deposit new cells (formation) at a greater rate than you dissolve old ones (resorption), resulting in high bone density for your first decades of life. After your 20s, bone formation slows down, and resorption eventually starts to outspeed new bone cell deposits.
In other words, it’s normal to lose some bone density as you age. However, some people lose too much bone mass, resulting in extremely fragile bones. This is known as osteoporosis. (Learn more about what happens to your body during osteoporosis.)
What makes osteoporosis so dangerous is that these delicate bones are very prone to fracture, especially in the hips, spine, and wrists. Hip and spine fractures in particular can be devastating to quality of life and overall health, and it can lead to loss of mobility and independence. Fractures can also lead to reduced height and bone deformities.
However, it’s a myth that osteoporosis is just a natural part of aging. Good bone health can help prevent bones from becoming too porous, and prevention starts in childhood. Think of bone remodeling like a checking account: Making big bone cell deposits during youth can save you from overdrafting later on.
Most people associate strong bones with getting enough calcium, but healthy bones require much more than that. For the healthiest bones, experts recommend the following:
Eat a balanced and nutritious diet, including lots of fruits and vegetables and a good supply of calcium and vitamin D. Sources of calcium besides dairy include leafy greens and fatty fish, like salmon.
Exercise regularly, and include strength training to bolster your bones. (Learn more about how exercise helps treat and prevent osteoporosis.)
Skip extreme weight-loss diets. Here are tips to lose weight without harming bone health.
Quit smoking, or don’t start smoking.
Avoid heavy drinking.
If you have risk factors for osteoporosis, it’s not too late to make bone-boosting changes. Ask your doctor for tips to temper bone loss as you age and help prevent osteoporosis and fracture.