4 Ways to Prevent Fractures

When you were a kid, your risk of fractures came from the kind of activity you were doing—flying on a swing set, racing around the neighborhood on a two-wheeler, and tripping while closing in on second base could all lead to broken bones. But as you've gotten older, your risk of fracturing something is tied to issues of aging. Nutrient deficiency, poor balance, and lack of exercise can all set the stage for a breakage.

Here are four ways to prevent fracturing a bone: 

1. Get a bone density test. Osteoporosis, or thin and brittle bones, affects millions of older people, most of them women. In fact, most hip and spine fractures among older Caucasian women are due to this condition.

A doctor will typically give you a DXA test, which involves lying on a table while a machine scans your body and measures the density of your bones. The test is painless and the machine emits much less radiation than a standard x-ray machine.

If you have or are at risk for osteoporosis, you may be prescribed bone-strengthening medications as well as lifestyle changes.

2. Pay attention to your diet. Calcium and vitamin D are top priorities. You also need a good amount of protein and, probably, less sodium.

Women over age 50 and men over age 70 need 1,200 milligrams of calcium every day. If you don't get enough from milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy sources, take a calcium supplement. Many combine calcium with vitamin D, which can be difficult to get from food. A small amount of sunlight exposure every day helps the body manufacture its own vitamin D.

Aim for a reasonable amount of protein, which helps heal fractures, in lean meats such as poultry, lowfat beef, and fish. And watch the salt shaker-salt makes the body excrete calcium in the urine.

3. Stay active. Don't limit yourself to the sidelines. Keeping active will actually bolster your bones and lessen the chance of fractures. Your bones are made of living tissue that gets stronger when challenged to bear weight. That's why so-called "weight-bearing exercises," where your bones and muscles must move against gravity, are so good for you.

Cardiovascular activities such as walking, dancing, or playing tennis all keep your bones strong. And resistance exercise such as weight lifting helps increase your muscle mass and keeps your bones dense.

4. Work on balance. One of the most common reasons for fractures is falling, and you can greatly reduce your chances of that if you have good balance. Tai chi and yoga can help. And simple things such as making sure you wear shoes with non-slip soles and holding handrails when going up and down stairs will help keep you safe.

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, www.niams.nih.gov.