Epidemiologic evidence suggests that lifestyle factors, such as exercise, calcium intake, and tobacco consumption, have effects on bone density. However, the influence of these factors in the elderly has not been well documented. To examine the effects of lifestyle factors in the elderly, we measured bone density (BMD) at the lumbar spine and proximal femur in 709 elderly men and 1080 women participating in the Dubbo Osteoporosis Epidemiology study (DOES), a community-based, longitudinal, epidemiologic study of osteoporosis in men and women over the age of 60. BMD was significantly higher in men than in women (20% at all sites). There was an age-related decline in BMD at the femoral neck in both sexes and at the lumbar spine in women. Between the ages of 60 and 80, the decrease in BMD at the femoral neck among women was 18.9%, which is almost twice the decrease in BMD among men (10.1%). Tobacco consumption was associated with a reduction in BMD at both sites in both sexes (5-8%), and this effect was independent of calcium intake or body weight. Exsmokers had BMD intermediate between that of current smokers and never smokers, suggesting the influence of tobacco was partially reversible. Quadriceps strength predicted bone density at the proximal femur in elderly men but not in women. Analyzing BMD (adjusted for age and weight) in tertiles of muscle strength and calcium intake revealed an interaction between calcium intake and muscle strength on bone density; BMD at the femoral neck among those with higher quadriceps strength and calcium intake was approximately 5% higher (P < 0.05) than in those with low quadriceps strength and calcium intake in both men and women. These data indicate that lifestyle factors, such as tobacco consumption, calcium intake, and physical activity, may influence bone density in the elderly. Modification of these lifestyle factors may influence osteoporotic fracture risk in elderly men and women.