By: Leah Golden, MS, RD

When you were a little kid, you may have been told to drink a glass of milk to make your bones big and strong.  We’re taught in health class that our skeleton gives us structure and our bones grow through our adolescence, giving us our height. I imagine many little kids drinking milk and eating what their parents tell them if it’ll make them taller! Not only do our bones keep our bodies upright and give us our height & frame, they have other essential functions that keep our bodies healthy, including:

1. Protecting our vital organs!

  • The skull provides a barrier around our brain.
  • The ribs provide a shield around our vital organs, including our heart and lungs.

2. Help us move!

  • With the help of muscles and tendons, our bones help us move in many different directions.
  • Large bones help us make big movements, like running, throwing a baseball or lifting.
  • Smaller bones help us with fine movements, like writing, threading a needle and typing on a computer.

3. Synthesis of Blood Cells!

  • The bone marrow, which is housed in the bones, is where various blood cells are made, including:
    • red blood cells that carry oxygen
    • white blood cells that help us fight infection
    • platelets that help with blood clotting (i.e- when you get a cut)

4. Storage for minerals, like calcium and phosphorus!

  • Important storage unit for minerals that are needed for bone structure. The minerals may also be released into the bloodstream if needed for other physiological processes. For example, calcium ions are needed for muscle contractions and nerve impulses.

Now that we’ve reviewed the functions of bones, you can see how important it is for us to protect and keep them strong as long as we can. May is Osteoporosis Awareness Month, which is a great time to think about what steps to take to keep your bones as strong and healthy as possible.

Osteoporosis is a common disease in which the bones lose density and quality, which makes them spongy and more vulnerable to fractures. Most people don’t realize they’re losing bone mass and in turn, becoming more at risk of damage. Up to one in four men and one in two women over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Getting ahead of this silent disease is your best bet to avoid bone fractures or breaks as you age. Here are FIVE ways to keep your bones healthy and reduce your risk for osteoporosis:

1. Weight Bearing Exercise

  • This includes any activity that puts more weight on your bones and muscles and makes them work against gravity. The higher the impact of the exercise, the more bone strengthening benefits. These activities include:
  • Running, Tennis, Stairs, Jump rope, Basketball and Dancing.

2. Regular Strength Training

  • This type of activity will help keep bones strong, increase muscle mass to support joints and help improve stability.  These activities include:
  • Lifting weights, using weight machines and resistance bands and bodyweight exercises (like push-ups, pull-ups and squats).

3. Eat Foods Rich in Calcium and Vitamin D

  • The calcium mineral is needed the most for bone formation. Along with calcium, vitamin D is also required in adequate amounts to help with calcium absorption. Sun exposure (without sunscreen) is the most ideal way to get adequate vitamin D. Ask your Doctor for your specific needs for sun exposure time. Food sources of vitamin D include fortified milk and cereals, salmon, egg yolks and tuna.  The recommended daily intake for both calcium and vitamin D will vary from person to person, so check with your Doctor and Registered Dietitian to determine what is best for you. You can get calcium from dairy and non-dairy sources, including:

FoodServing SizeCalcium Content (mg)
Sardines (in tin, bones included)3 oz325
Yogurt (low-fat or fat free)6 oz300
Collard Greens, raw1 cup84
Cheese, cheddar1 oz205
Bok Choy (raw)8 oz75
Almonds (raw)1 oz (about 23 almonds)75
Milk (cow), nonfat8 oz299
Kale, raw, chopped1 cup24
Broccoli, raw1/2 cup21
Orange juice, calcium-fortified6 oz261

1. Maintain a Healthy Weight

  • As regards bone health, it’s important to maintain healthy weight (including muscle mass) and avoid being underweight.  Those who are underweight tend to have less bone mass.

2. Keep Tobacco and Excess Alcohol Consumption in Check

  • Women who smoke cigarettes have lower bone mass and may reach menopause earlier than those who abstain.  Consuming over one alcoholic drink per day may also cause health problems, including bone loss and cardiovascular disease.  

If you have questions and/or need more direction as it regards bone health, feel free to email me at  If you have further questions regarding your family history and personal bone health, it may be time to reach out to your doctor and schedule an appointment. Remember, you have to take care of your bones to keep them big and strong!

In health,