A cross-sectional study of 351 healthy Finnish women aged 20-76 years was done to establish reference values of bone mineral density (BMD) using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). The effects of age and of several physical and lifestyle factors on BMD of the lumbar spine and proximal femur (femoral neck, trochanter, and Ward's triangle area) were investigated. Altogether 58 women were excluded from the final analysis due to significant spinal osteoarthritis or other diseases or drugs known to influence calcium or bone metabolism. The precision of the method was 0.9, 1.2, 2.7, and 2.4% in the lumbar, femoral neck, Ward's triangle and trochanter area, respectively. Lumbar BMD was increased by 30% (P less than 0.001) in 15 patients with osteoarthritis (21% of women 50 years or older), but it was apparently unaffected in 5 cases with aortic calcification. Except for the trochanter area, BMD diminished along with age, and this was significant after the menopause. The peak of mean BMD was observed at the age of 31-35 years in the spine and at the age of 20-25 years in the femoral neck and Ward's triangle. BMD was in a positive relationship to weight both in premenopausal and postmenopausal women and to the use of oral contraceptives in premenopausal women and to that of estrogen replacement therapy in postmenopausal women. Labors and pregnancies had a weak positive effect on BMD in premenopausal women. As compared with nonusers premenopausal women who had used alcohol showed a slightly decreased BMD of Ward's triangle. In postmenopausal women there was a positive correlation between alcohol intake and BMD.