The prospect of falling and breaking a hip may seem eons away, but it’s never too soon to begin an exercise program to strengthen your bones and muscles and improve your balance.
If you read the health reports about women and aging, you’ll see how many of these stories relate to broken hips and wrists from falls. According to research in Norway, women are far more likely than men of the same age to break a wrist seriously enough to need surgery, and the risk becomes greater for women as they age.
Falling injuries happen to many seniors and would be much less serious if bone loss, excess joint degeneration, and loss of balance were not also an issue. Hard landings on tile and wood floors can be a major problem when combined with these factors.
Women lose bone more rapidly than men
Estrogen plays an important role in bone health. It protects bones and helps keep them strong and healthy. Because women have more estrogen (a female hormone) than men, they have different issues with bone loss. When estrogen levels drop, many women lose bone density. This can happen during women’s teens and early twenties if they often miss periods due to low estrogen levels.
During midlife, women’s estrogen levels begin to drop during perimenopause, which can begin as early as in their thirties, though it usually starts at around 40 to 44 years of age. As menopause approaches, estrogen levels continue to decrease, and following menopause, estrogen production is almost completely stopped.
This means that a woman’s chance of breaking a bone increases as she ages … but prevention is at hand!
Start now for healthy bones
Ensuring bone strength, joint stability, and balance are important themes for women—starting at a younger age than you might think. Because bone is living tissue and your body can build new bone, the earlier you start laying down new bone tissue, the better chance you’ll have to decrease the risk of injury and osteoporosis (an age-related skeletal disorder that involves compromised bone strength and an increased risk of bone fracture) later on.
What you eat can make a difference for your bones and joints. It’s important to eat a balanced diet with plenty of calcium (found in dairy, sardines, leafy greens, and nuts) and vitamin D (found in fortified products and fatty fish) to build bones.
Don’t smoke! Smoking can cause the body to make less bone-friendly estrogen (not to mention the havoc smoking creates for other body systems).
Drinking too much alcohol can damage bones and increase falling risk. When we have too much alcohol (2 to 3 ounces or more every day), the stomach is less able to absorb calcium (critical to bone strength). Alcohol also affects the liver (important in activating vitamin D, which is vital for calcium absorption).
Starting a strength-training regimen that also includes balance exercises is extremely beneficial for women in their younger years. This will help increase bone density, joint strength, and stability while creating lifelong exercise habits.
Research has shown that resistance training provides the greatest increase in bone density. Weight-bearing exercises increase both bone and muscle strength—along with confidence and body awareness—while also helping with weight control, something that also impacts joints.
Balance exercises are a fun way to prevent falls. They’re also a great way to challenge yourself with new things. Consider using BOSU balls or squishy discs or balancing on one leg with your eyes closed. The more variety, the better!
Benefits of balance training
- decreased risk of injury
- increased core stability
- increased kinesthetic awareness
Benefits of weight training
- decreased risk of osteopenia (lower-than-normal bone mass) and osteoporosis
- increased joint and muscle strength
- increased bone density
- reduced risk of injury
A lifetime of regular exercise provides the greatest protective benefits, so find an activity that you know you’ll stick with long term. Dedicate a specific time in your schedule to a bone-building fitness routine. Join a class, go for walks with a friend, or do quick 10-minute workouts to eliminate all obstacles that could stop you from staying active.
How do supplements help?
Your local natural health retailer carries a variety of supplements for bone and joint health. These are just a sample.
Calcium builds bones and helps keep them healthy. Calcium is also important for strong muscles and a healthy heart.
Vitamin D is vital for calcium absorption. Both work together to prevent bone loss. Most people don’t get enough vitamin D (it’s very difficult to get enough through diet), especially if they live in an area of the world without much sun.
Magnesium is a critical component of our skeleton and is often missing from our diet. Some researchers suggest a magnesium deficiency could impair bone mineralization and be a risk factor for osteoporosis.
B vitamins help us keep low blood levels of homocysteine (an amino acid that, in high levels, is a risk factor for osteoporosis); this may lower the risk of osteoporotic fractures.
Vitamin K helps modify certain proteins that are involved in bone health so they can bind calcium.