Chances are, you know someone who has been sidelined by a fall. Whether that person slipped on the ice, tripped over a rug, or fell while stepping down from a ladder, one thing is for a certain: One simple accident or misstep can cause a serious injury.
Aside from avoiding falls and keeping your home safe, you can take steps now to keep your bones healthy and strong. By taking good care of your bones, if you do fall, you will have a better chance of recovery.
A silent disease
As we age, our bones naturally break down and lose density. Some people then face osteoporosis, a disease that makes bones sponge-like, brittle and more likely to break. The National Osteoporosis Foundation reports about 54 million Americans External Site have low bone density or osteoporosis, and one in four men over age 50 will break a bone as a result. Among women over age 50, one in every two can expect an osteoporosis-related break. The risk of fractures and breaks increases during the icy, snowy days of winter. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year, one in every three adults ages 65 or older falls and 2 million are treated in emergency departments for fall-related injuries.
The risk of falling increases with each decade of life. The hip, wrist and spine are especially prone to fractures, and those cracks can lead to long-lasting health issues.
Why bones break down
As we age, bones start breaking down more quickly than they grow. Certain populations experience faster bone loss than others, and that puts them at higher risk for osteoporosis.
Women, for example, have smaller bones and less bone tissue than men. Older women lose bone density more quickly because of post-menopausal hormone changes. The National Osteoporosis Foundation warns that a woman can lose up to 20 percent of her bone density in the five to seven years after menopause. Among men over age 50, the risk of an osteoporosis-related break is higher than the risk of prostate cancer. A family history of weak bones and breaks also increases your chance of related issues.
Despite what many older adults believe, it’s never too late to improve the health of your bones. Preventing bone loss not only lowers your risk of fractures, but can help improve your overall health.
Strengthen your bones
- Exercise. Like muscles, bones weaken without physical activity. Exercise builds bone strength while improving your heart health and overall fitness levels. Exercise also boosts balance, coordination and muscle strength, making you less likely to fall and crack a weak bone. It’s especially important that older adults do regular weight-bearing exercise. If you haven’t exercised in a while, check with your doctor before beginning a regular program. Then, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day.
- Calcium and vitamin D. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. If you’re over age 50, aim for 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 600 international units of vitamin D each day. While supplements are important, there is no substitute for a healthy diet. In particular, green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli are great sources of calcium.
- Bone density tests. Women should get a bone scan at age 65. Men age 70 and up may want to talk with their doctors about the risks and benefits before being tested. Younger women, and men ages 50 to 69, should consider the test if they have risk factors for serious bone loss. Talk to your doctor about when to get tested.