I don’t want to be diagnosed with osteoporosis when I’m older. I bet you don’t either. And yet, the odds are stacked against us women: Overwhelmingly, majority of those affected with osteoporosis are women – think millions and millions of women with thinning and weakening of the bones leading to low bone mass and increased fracture risk. In fact, we reach our peak bone mass at approximately age 30, and half of all women will lose bone mass after their 50th birthday. Fortunately, there are some simple steps that you can do this summer to decrease your risk: Exercise: Exercise is a great way to strengthen your bones. Why? Exercise forces bones to work against the forces of gravity. Walking is a great example—no equipment required, except perhaps some fabulous shoes! And if there’s any time to enjoy the bone-building benefits of a long walk, it’s summertime. The American Heart Association recommends10,000 steps/day, and walking (or hiking if you get the opportunity to do so this summer!) is a great way to reach that goal. Get out in the sun: Yes, I am going to tell you to wear sunscreen. Early and often. But I am also going to tell you that some straight up sun exposure is good for you. Why? Exposure to the sun is the primary source of vitamin D; although, we also get vitamin D from food sources and supplements. We need vitamin D to maintain our strong and healthy bones; in other words, to ward off osteoporosis! So what’s ‘some exposure’? The general rule of thumb is to expose your arms and legs, or your arms and hands and face, for 5-10 minutes, 2-3 times per week. This amount of sun exposure, plus the vitamin D from food sources plus or minus vitamin D supplementation, should be adequate for you to maintain appropriate levels for bone health. Have a scoop of ice cream: Summertime is ice cream time. If ice cream is not your thing, or to get your dairy without packing in too much sugar, there are many other great sources of calcium, including other low fat dairy items (think milk, cheese and yogurt), sardines, fortified orange juice, dark leafy green vegetables and tofu. Dietary calcium matters because low calcium levels have been shown to correlate with low bone mass. Consider bone density screening: The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends screening with a bone density if you are over the age of 65. However, if you have a risk factor, then you may need earlier screening. What are risk factors? Think smoking and excessive drinking, long-term use of certain medications (i.e. steroids), low body weight, history of non-traumatic fractures, family history, or other medical disorders associated with osteoporosis. If you fit into any of these categories, then speak with your physician about possible early screening. This post first appeared in www.sweatnsk.com.