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Calcium: How to determine what’s right for you
Reaching your goal

You may need more than calcium alone
You may need more than calcium alone

You need to consider additional ways to keep your bones strong. Exercise is important because bone, like muscle, is a “use it or lose it” part of the body. Specifically, your bones need weight-bearing exercise, that is, any exercise that puts weight on the bones and thereby stimulates their growth. Walking and running are weight-bearing exercises; swimming is not.

If you’re a cigarette smoker, quitting is a crucial step you can take to help preserve your bone tissue; smoking interferes with the absorption of calcium. Drinking alcohol to excess also contributes to osteoporosis.

What’s your risk for osteoporosis?
What’s your risk for osteoporosis?

Even though osteoporosis is largely preventable, more than one in three American women over age 50 eventually suffer a broken bone as a result of this disease. That’s because estrogen plays a major role in preserving bone mass, and the body’s production of estrogen drops sharply after menopause.

Women who go through menopause early are at especially great risk. Being slender is another risk factor. So is a family history of osteoporosis. If you are white or Asian, you are at greater risk than if you are black.

While osteoporosis is basically a postmenopausal condition, prevention ought to start early in life. From puberty onward, it’s important for women to consume a calcium-sufficient diet and engage in weight-bearing exercises like walking.

Remember Mom saying, “Drink your milk and you’ll have strong, healthy bones”? It’s long been known that calcium, in which dairy products are especially rich, is associated with bone health.

Today you often hear calcium stressed as a key ingredient in preventing osteoporosis, the weakening of the bones that can lead to painful compression fractures of the spine and life-threatening hip fractures as you get older. But exactly how important is calcium in preventing osteoporosis? How much should you have each day? In what form? Is calcium enough to prevent fragile bones?

A calcium-rich diet can play a role in reducing bone loss. Even if you are over 40, did not consume much calcium when you were younger and have a family history of osteoporosis, calcium will stop bone loss to some degree.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that women in their childbearing years consume 1,000 milligrams of calcium every day. (After menopause, the recommended amount rises to 1,200 mg a day).

Reaching your goal

Although U.S. women on average consume only 500 mg of calcium a day, getting twice that amount can be easy. Drinking one glass of milk brings your total to 550 mg; eating an ounce of cheddar cheese and a cup of broccoli brings you to about 900 mg.

Of course, this still wouldn’t give you all the calcium you need. That’s why some women choose to fortify their dietary intake of calcium by taking calcium supplements. A good way to do this is to take chewable antacid tablets containing calcium. They’re inexpensive, and the calcium in them is readily absorbed by the body.