Bone health for women

Bone health for women

What you need to know from Women’s Sports Medicine at TRIA

Bone health is important for everyone through every stage of life. But women are more likely to develop an injury related to bone health than men. Read this information to learn about bone health through your current age, as well as what to expect in the years ahead. Understanding how vitamins, minerals and other factors affect your bone health is important. The more you know about bone health, the more you’ll be able to recognize when and why you might be at risk of injuries related to bone health.

Why women are more at risk than men for poor bone health

Your bones, which are made of calcium, make up your body’s skeletal system. Calcium is a mineral that is necessary for your body to work. The amount of bone tissue in your skeleton is known as bone mass. Your bone mass keeps growing and increases in strength and density until it reaches peak bone mass. Peak bone mass is the greatest amount of bone you can reach. Typically, women reach their peak bone mass between 20 and 30 years old. Women’s peak bone mass is less than men’s. Women also have smaller bones than men. Less peak bone mass and smaller bones put women at higher risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition in which your bones are weak and more likely to break.

Bone health at every age

Birth to 9 years old

Adequate calcium and vitamin D are needed when you are very young to develop strong bones and teeth. You also need vitamin D to help your body absorb calcium.

10 to 20 years old

During puberty, women build up half of the total amount of calcium stored in their body. By the end of puberty, however, men have 50 percent more calcium stored than women. Menstruation in women typically starts at about 12 years old. Having regular periods indicates that you are producing enough estrogen, a hormone that improves how well you absorb calcium. Between 11 and 12 years old, girls increase in height rapidly. Growing stops between 14 and 15 years old. By 20 years old, 95 percent of women reach their peak bone mass. Some additional gains occur until about 30 years old. Eating a healthy food plan and doing regular physical activity are important during this time. Excessive exercise, however, can cause weight loss. Hormonal changes from weight loss—a drop in estrogen—may cause menstruation to stop. A decrease in estrogen also can cause bone loss. If you have changes in your menstrual cycle, talk to your clinician.

21 to 30 years old

Bone formation continues between 21 and 30 years old but at a slower rate than between 10 and 20 years old. Physical activity continues to be important to promote good bone health. Aim to do 30 minutes of weight-bearing physical activity (such as walking, running or tennis) 4 days a week and muscle-strengthening activities (such as weight training) at least 2 days a week.

31 to 49 years old

Bone mass gradually starts to decrease after 30 years old. Your body continually removes and replaces old bone until 40 years old. But after 40, bone is replaced at a slower rate than previously. To decrease the amount of bone loss, do regular weight-bearing physical activity and get enough calcium and vitamin D (see table to right). Also check with your clinician about what amount is right for you.

50 years and older

Women 50 years and older who are menopausal (no longer have menstrual periods) should increase their calcium. The average age of menopause is between 42 and 55 years old. As estrogen levels decrease, women experience rapid bone loss. About 10 years after menopause, women can lose up to 40 percent of their spongy inner bone and 10 percent of their hard outer bone. The decrease of bone strength causes an increased risk of fracture and osteoporosis. For women 70 years and older, fall prevention becomes very important. Falls are the leading cause of injury among seniors in the United States. Falls can cause a decreased quality of life and loss of independence due to the resulting injuries. More help with daily activities may be needed for safety, whether living in a nursing home, assisted living or with family members.

Recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D for women


Calcium (milligrams)

Vitamin D* (International Units)

Birth to 6 months 200 – 
7 to 12 months 260
1 to 3 years 700 600
4 to 8 years 1,000 600
9 to 18 years 1,300 600
19 to 50 years 1,000 600
51 to 70 years 1,200 600
71 years and older 1,200 800

*Calcium and vitamin D amounts provided by the National Institutes of Health and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

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