The news out of the National Institutes of Health is troubling: One in every two American women over age 50 will break a bone during her lifetime because of osteoporosis, a disease in which bones lose minerals and become fragile. What’s more, women who have a family history of the disease have an even higher risk of experiencing a painful bone break, usually in the wrist, spine or hip. For older women, a broken bone, especially a broken hip, can mean permanent disability, depression and even death.
Your bones can begin to thin and weaken for different reasons: low estrogen levels as a result of menopause, a poor diet, the use of certain medications, being underweight, not exercising, smoking and overdoing alcohol. When bones thin to a certain point, you may have osteopenia, or reduced bone mass. Osteopenia precedes osteoporosis, characterized by more severe bone loss. But having osteopenia doesn’t mean you’ll develop osteoporosis. Studies have shown you can prevent or halt bone loss, reduce your fracture risk and even rebuild your bones.
 Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D or take supplements. Calcium sources include milk and other dairy foods, leafy green vegetables, soybeans and tofu and calcium-fortified juice and oatmeal. Sources of vitamin D include vitamin D–fortified milk or juice and cod liver oil, as well as sunlight.
 Exercise each day for at least 30 minutes. Strength training (lifting weights) and weight-bearing exercises like walking, jogging and jumping rope keep your bones strong.
 Don’t smoke or abuse alcohol. Doing either reduces your bone mass.
 Prevent falls. Try activities that improve balance, like dancing and tai chi. Wear supportive, nonslip shoes. Make your home safe by banishing slippery throw rugs and removing things you may trip over.
 Ask your healthcare provider about medications you’re taking (such as thyroid or arthritis drugs) and whether they can weaken your bones. If so, find out how you can protect your frame.
 Get a bone mineral density test (also called a DEXA scan). Women over age 65 need one, as do younger women who have a family history of osteoporosis, take certain medications or have other risk factors.
If you have signs of bone loss—you’ve lost height, experienced bone fractures or had a bone density test that showed reduced bone mass—talk with your healthcare provider about supplements and medicines that can help.