As many as half of all women and one-fourth of all men older than 50 will fracture a bone at some point due to osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weak or porous bones that break easily, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.  

Young adults have most of their adult bone mass by the time they’re 20 years old, and the risk of osteoporosis rises with age, as bone cells are lost faster than new ones are formed.

The risk also increases with certain diseases – including rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, lupus and ankylosing spondylitis – as well as the steroid medications used to treat them. But there are measures you can take to reduce the risk.

Whether you are young and still building bone or older and trying to preserve it, following this advice can help keep your bones healthy and strong.

1. Drink milk. Milk and other dairy products – including cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese and even ice cream – are some of the best sources of calcium, which is crucial for strong bones. Non-dairy calcium sources include leafy green vegetables like broccoli and kale, canned sardines with bones, and fortified soy milk. If you’re concerned that you don’t get enough calcium from the food you eat, ask your doctor about a calcium supplement. Your diet and supplement together should provide 1,000 milligrams, or mg, of calcium daily – 1,200 mg if you are 50 or older.

2. Spend some time in the sun. Your skin makes vitamin D in response to sun exposure, and your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and build healthy bones.  

Food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna, egg yolks, cheese and fortified milk, juice and cereal products, but vitamin D also comes from sunlight exposure. Depending on where you live and you skin pigmentation, you may get enough by spending as little as five to 30 minutes in the sunlight a couple of times a week. If you live in a northern state, don’t spend much time outdoors, always use sunscreen or have darker skin, you may need a vitamin D supplement to get your recommended daily intake of 600 to 800 international units, or IUs.

3. Take a hike. Like muscles, bones become stronger when they are active. The best exercises for building stronger bones are weight-bearing exercises – those that make your bones carry your body weight – including brisk walking, dancing or aerobics and muscle-strengthening exercises, such as working with resistance bands. (Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. She might tell you, for instance, that weight lifting could aggravate your arthritis.)