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Exercise may be your best bet for bone health, not calcium or vitamin D supplements

Calcium helps keep your bones strong and healthy. So, it is wise to incorporate foods with calcium into your daily diet. If you’re not getting enough calcium, exercise may be your best bet for bone health; the evidence is weak that calcium supplements will benefit you.

The National Institutes of Health recommends eating foods rich in calcium. People over 50 need between 1,200 mg and 2,000 mg of calcium every day. You can get your daily dose of calcium from milk, cheese, yogurt, soybeans and dark, leafy vegetables such as kale or broccoli.

Calcium supplements are another matter. Increasing evidence suggests that all those years of advice to take calcium supplements for bone health may be turning into one of those reversals of medical advice that seems to come all too frequently.

Since 2002, the bulk of the evidence indicates that calcium supplements actually don’t decrease fracture risk and may actually do harm, such as increase the risks of kidney stones, heart attacks, prostate cancer, and even stroke. Nor does evidence indicate that eating more foods with calcium reduces fracture risk.

That said, the Mayo Clinic suggests that if you are a vegan, lactose intolerant, have osteoporosis, or consume a lot of food with protein or sodium, you should talk to your doctor about whether you should take a calcium supplement.

Vitamin D supplements also seem to be over-rated as far as bone health, as supplements do not lower fracture risk for those living in the community. For those living in nursing homes on the other hand, they do lower the risk of fractures from falls.

The best bet to promote bone health for those living in the community? According to the evidence: Exercise. Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, climbing stairs and dancing, are most helpful. These exercises help create new bone tissue, strengthening your bones.

Exercise has a positive effect on preventing fractures, though in actual controlled studies, the average effect was small. The Surgeon General recommends an exercise goal of 30 minutes a day.

This post was originally published on July 30, 2015.

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