“Drink your milk!” your mother may have told you this as a child. And she was absolutely right: People who drink plenty of milk (or get plenty of calcium from other sources) tend to have lower risks of conditions like osteoporosis, the disease that causes bones to become thin and brittle.
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It appears that not many of us listened very well to Mom; annually, osteoporosis accounts for about 700,000 spine fractures, 300,000 hip fractures, about 250,000 wrist fractures, and 300,000 fractures at other sites. One out of two women over 50 and one in eight men over 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture at some point.
Even if you’re not a kid anymore, there’s plenty you can do to protect yourself. From upping your calcium intake to getting the right exercise, here are the 28 best ways to protect your 206 bones. Pay special attention to this advice if you are over age 50, have a family history of osteoporosis, or are a woman who has gone through menopause, because your bones may be more vulnerable.
1. Add almonds to everything. They’re packed with bone-strengthening calcium. Just an ounce, about a handful, of the sweet nuts provides 70 mg calcium. Try them toasted and sprinkled over salad or yogurt, ground and mixed into meat or turkey for meat loaf or meatballs, used in place of pine nuts for homemade pesto, or as a topping for ice cream or frozen yogurt.
2. Have calcium supplements easily accessible. If you’re like most people, between the vitamins, supplements, and medications you may be taking every day, a calcium supplement — best taken twice a day — is apt to be forgotten. So stash them all over the place. Put a bottle in the glove compartment of your car. Keep one on your desk at work. Slip a roll of Tums (a great source of calcium) in your purse or pocket. Put a bottle in full view on your kitchen counter. Calcium is best absorbed in two doses of 500 or 600 mg taken at least three hours apart. Choose a brand that has vitamin D, too, which your body needs in order to use the calcium.
3. Drink one cup of tea a day. That’s all it took in a study of 1,256 women ages 65-76 to increase their bone density 5 percent. That translates to a 10-20 percent reduction in fracture risk! Another study found that among more than 1,000 Chinese men and women, those who regularly drank tea (usually green tea) had denser bones than those who didn’t.
4. Jump rope for 10 minutes every day. It’s one of the best all-around exercises for building bone. You can even find jump ropes that measure not only the number of jumps you complete, but how many calories you burn. Be careful when you start, though. This exercise requires coordination, and if your bones already happen to be thin, the last thing you want to do is fall.
5. Try some coleslaw or stuffed cabbage rolls for dinner once a week. Cabbage is rich in vitamin K, a vitamin that helps turn on a bone-building protein called osteocalcin.
6. Order your pizza topped with sardines and spinach. Not only is it delicious, but you’ll get a ton of bone-protecting calcium in every bite.
7. Add nonfat powdered milk to soups, casseroles, baked goods and drinks. It’s an easy, unobtrusive way to sneak more calcium into your diet, particularly if you don’t like drinking milk.
8. Learn to cook with yogurt. Many cultures, particularly Indian, use yogurt every day in cooking.
9. Choose brown over white rice tonight and every night. It’s got three times the calcium.
10. Get your calcium in unexpected places, like calcium-fortified orange juice and calcium-fortified cereals.