"We continuously add bone, up until the early adult years," says Neil Gonter, assistant professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University and a rheumatologist in private practice in New Jersey. "And then it stabilizes for many years, until the menstrual cycle stops and we start to lose bone." So protecting your bones most means getting an early start:
• Optimize calcium intake. The National Osteoporosis Foundation suggests at least 1,200 milligrams per day for women older than 50, including supplements, if necessary. A recent study, published this month in BMJ, suggests that taking calcium supplements could increase the risk of cardiovascular events. But the study's authors stress that the findings are preliminary and would need to be confirmed by future research, with the results balanced against the beneficial effects of increased calcium intake on bone.
• Incorporate vitamin D into your diet. About 400 to 800 international units per day should be the goal, according to the NOF's osteoporosis treatment guidelines—though some experts now think even more is better. Sources of vitamin D include fortified milk and cereals, egg yolks, liver, and saltwater fish. You can also take a supplement.
• Exercise. Do muscle-strengthening and weight-bearing exercises. You'll build bone and add strength, balance, and agility.