As we age, falls and fractures become a major threat to our health and well-being. That’s because our bones weaken as we age and osteoporosis can cause bones to become more porous — and thus more prone to fractures. It’s estimated that approximately half of all women over the age of 50 will eventually suffer a fracture of the hip, wrist or spine. Those sobering statistics are from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, and they highlight the immense suffering that often follows the loss of bone mass.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, certain medications and medical conditions increase your risk for this debilitating disease, such as smoking, or an insufficient intake of calcium. On the other hand, these factors lower the risk: A healthy diet that goes easy on salt, caffeine, and alcohol. Yet, by far the leading cause of bone loss in women is simply the natural decline in estrogen production that follows the onset of menopause.
There is good news: Many seniors can successfully circumvent falls and fractures for years, through taking these four steps:
- Establish a regular exercise routine. Activity that increases strength, and promotes better posture and balance, go a long way toward decreasing the risk of falls and fractures. It’s important to pursue a range of activities that promotes general fitness, not just exercise aimed to lose pounds. The goal should be to build increased muscular strength, improved balance, and better coordination. The key is to stay as active as you can. The type of exercise you do doesn’t matter as much as being as active as you can every day. Remember to check in with your physician before starting any exercise regimen.
- Consume enough calcium. A major building block of bone tissue, calcium supplements and calcium-fortified foods can help strengthen your bones. Aim for a diet that includes 1,000 milligrams a day of this mineral, if you’re 50 or younger, and 1,200 milligrams, if you’re older than 50. Don’t consume more than 2,000 milligrams per day, as it may cause constipation, and interfere with iron absorption.
- Accident-proof your home. Avoid area rugs, which may cause falls. Also, keep your home well lit, so hazards are visible, and therefore avoidable. Installing safety bars in bathtubs may also prevent a fall and a resulting fracture.
- Ask your doctor about bone-density tests. Find out how frequently you should have these tests done, and if you are a good candidate for therapeutic bone-building medication. Keeping an eye on bone health in your 50s and beyond can help prevent falls, breaks and fractures.