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My grandmother Sarie was known for her perky, svelte physique. Her last days, however, were spent stooped over with a severely hunched back. One day, in her late eighties, she fell on the sidewalk and fractured her hip—she was whisked to the hospital, but never made it back. It’s a sad story that’s all too common for women; osteoporosis, or loss of bone density, affects four times more females than males, according to WebMD. If you’re Caucasian, Asian, over 50, slim or have family history of osteoporosis, you’re especially likely to develop this bone-eroding illness. The good news is that you can take steps now to build strong, sturdy bones for life.

1. Get your vitamins and minerals. Of course you know to eat calcium—1,000 to 1,200 milligrams per day, to be precise—but there are also plenty of other nutrients that encourage sturdy bones. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends munching on canned salmon and sardines (with the bones) for calcium and vitamin D, tomatoes and plantains for magnesium, raisins and bananas for potassium, leafy greens for vitamin K and plenty of fruits for vitamin C.

2. Opt for omega-3s. It turns out that omega-3 fatty acids do more than just boost heart health—the NOF also claims that, although more research is needed, these healthy fats may help strengthen your bones. Find omega-3s in fish, olive oil, flaxseed oil and blueberries. 

3. Skip the salt. There are plenty of reasons to ditch the salt shaker: sodium causes belly bloating and high blood pressure, for starters. Now you have one more reason to go easy on this grossly-overused seasoning—sodium actually causes your body to lose calcium, which could lead to mineral depletion in your bones. Healthy adults should eat no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, and you should cap sodium at 1,500 milligrams per day if you’re African-American, older than 50 or have high blood pressure or diabetes. The easiest way to do this? Toss the processed foods, drive right past the restaurants and fast-food joints, and cook at home using whole, natural foods.

4. Drink smart. Alcohol is a strange animal. The NOF notes that a glass of wine or beer a day may help your bones, but more than two or three daily drinks can actually cause bone loss. The same goes for coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages. Cola is also linked to bone depletion, though reearchers aren’t sure exactly why that is. Other soft drinks appear to have no effect on bones at all. 

5. Exercise. Not only does exercise make you stronger and sexier, but it also helps prevent bone loss—and may even build bone density to help reverse osteoporosis. The key is to choose weight-bearing moves that make your bones and muscles fight gravity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends walking, jogging, climbing stairs, dancing, playing soccer or lifting weights. Even body-weight exercises like push-ups will work, and you can do them just about anywhere—go for the bent-knee push-ups if the standard ones are too hard.

image: lululemon athletica