Search IconSearch

How Does Aging Affect Your Bones?

A look at bone buildup and loss throughout your life

Cartoonish lightning bolts of pain emanate from the knee of a distressed elderly person

You rely on bones and joints to support your body and help you navigate around the world. But how exactly do your bones grow, and what happens to them over time?


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Rheumatologist Chad Deal, MD, Head of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Osteoporosis and Metabolic Bone Disease, explains how your bones change as you age and what you can do to keep them healthy.

How bones change as you grow

Bone is densely packed with flexible fibers called collagen and hardened by calcium and phosphorus in a mineral called hydroyappatite. Your bones, which make up about 12% to 15% of your body weight, are built to withstand great stress from activities like walking, running and jumping.

And here’s a fun fact: Bone is a living tissue that constantly renews itself. “Your skeleton is completely new every five to 10 years,” Dr. Deal says.

When you’re born, you have about 300 bones, but over time, you end up with just 206. That’s because many of your bones, like the ones in your skull, fuse together as you grow.

When does bone stop growing?

In childhood and adolescence, bone buildup outpaces bone removal, or loss.

In your 20s, the density of minerals in your bones peaks. As you continue aging, your bone mass may stabilize, if you lead a healthy lifestyle that includes adequate calcium, vitamin D and exercise — or your bone mass may start slowly declining, with bone loss overtaking bone buildup.

Bone density declines without enough exercise, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin K and vitamin D from the foods you eat.

How does age affect your bones?

Natural bone loss accelerates in mid-life. This is especially true during menopause (typically around age 50, defined as premature menopause if it happens before age 45). During this time, levels of protective estrogen decline. “For men, the loss is more gradual because testosterone declines slowly,” Dr. Deal explains.

By age 65, though, everyone is in the same boat, as the rate of bone loss evens out among the sexes. From there, bone mass gradually declines for the rest of your life, which puts you at a greater risk for fractures.


“For each five years that passes after age 65, your risk of fracture essentially doubles,” Dr. Deal says.

When do bones start to thin?

If bone thinning makes your bone density drop below normal, you have osteopenia or osteoporosis, which weaken bones. This silent problem usually causes no symptoms but puts you at risk for fractures. Spine fractures can cause back pain and/or a dowager’s hump.

“It’s important to know that two-thirds of all spine fractures are asymptomatic,” Dr. Deal says. “And most fractures occur in patients with osteopenia, not osteoporosis, so early identification, prevention and treatment are important.”

How to safeguard your bones

There are some steps you can take to keep your bones strong and healthy. Here’s how.

1. Fortify your bones with food

Calcium and vitamin D work together to strengthen and protect your bones, so eat foods rich in both to keep your bones healthy.

Dietary calcium is preferred to supplements, with a recommended daily intake of 1,000 and 1,200 mg per day. In healthy people, the amount of vitamin D needed per day varies by age.

2. Do weight-bearing exercises

In this case, we’re not talking about lifting weight. Rather, Dr. Deal explains, we’re talking heel-strike activities, when you put your foot to the floor and send a mechanical stimulus through your skeleton. “Heel-strike activities like walking will stimulate new bone formation,” Dr. Deal says.

3. Avoid smoking

There are many reasons to quit or avoid smoking, so add your bones to the list. Smoking is toxic to your cells and lowers your estrogen levels. “There’s nothing nicotine is good for, including your bones,” Dr. Deal notes.

4. Get bone density (DXA) tests

A DXA bone density test is an imaging test that measures your bone density. People assigned female at birth (AFAB) should get DXA tests starting at age 65, while people assigned male at birth (AMAB) should get them starting at age 70.

“If you have clinical risk factors for bone loss or fracture, you may need DXA earlier,” Dr. Deal advises. Those risk factors include:

  • Family history.
  • Low body weight.
  • Previous fractures.

5. Take medication, if needed

If you have osteopenia or osteoporosis, certain medications can slow bone loss. And if you’re at high risk for developing those conditions, medications are vital. These fall into two classes: antiresorptive, which stops the body from re-absorbing bone tissue; and anabolic, which builds bone in people who have osteoporosis.

6. Take care of other health issues

Get the care you need for thyroid disorders, parathyroid disorders, premature menopause or any other health condition that affects your bone density.


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Moisturizer being applied to older hands
April 22, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
How To Make Your Hands Look Younger

To help keep your mitts feeling and looking their best, moisturize, exfoliate, wear sunscreen and eat a healthy diet

Seniors exercising with chairs
April 18, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
11 Chair Exercises for Seniors, Older Adults and People With Limited Mobility

Chair exercises can help people age 65+ retain independence

Hands injecting Botox to patient
March 20, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
Botox Aftercare: The Do’s, Don’ts and Don’t-Worry-About-Its

Most recommended precautions center around minimizing bruising or swelling

person getting forehead injections in a wrinkle
March 18, 2024/Aging Well
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Botox?

With repeat injections over time, you may be able to slow the development of new wrinkles

Younger person getting a botox injection in forehead from healthcare professional
March 12, 2024/Aging Well
Does Preventative Botox Really Work?

The cosmetic injection may help train your muscles out of frowning, but there’s no hard data to say for sure

female shopping for adult diapers
February 19, 2024/Urinary & Kidney Health
What To Know About Underwear for Incontinence

Before you run out and buy this specialty underwear, there are treatment options to try first, like pelvic floor therapy and medication

Person holding a bathroom grab bar for balance
October 16, 2023/Senior Health
Aging in Place: What To Know

Some planning, products and projects can help older adults stay in their homes safely longer

Elderly person walks with grandson on path in woods
October 9, 2023/Heart Health
7 Ways To Keep Your Heart Young

Avoid smoking, eat a good diet and exercise to prevent your heart from aging prematurely

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims