Getting older means numerous changes to the human body, and the skeletal system is no exception. When we age there's a progressive loss of both the amount and the quality of bone tissue. Mild losses are known as osteopenia, while more severe losses are known as osteoporosis.
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Individuals with osteoporosis are more likely to suffer one or more fractures in their lifetimes. These fractures can be expensive, severely disabling and may even result in death, so fracture prevention is a prominent medical concern. Although age-related fractures were once thought to be a problem of only women, it's now clear that both men and women are at risk.
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We still don't fully understand the causes (there appear to be many interacting factors), but scientific studies have pointed to several possible origins, and some of them appear to be affected by lifestyle choices. Here are 10 science-based nutrition and fitness tips that may help you prevent hip fractures as you get older:
5 Nutritional Tips to Prevent Hip Fractures
1) Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables. Several studies have indicated that both men and women who ate less than two servings of fruits and vegetables a day were at an increased risk of hip fracture. Increasing your servings to more than two per day may reduce your risk by as much as 50 percent.
2) Stop Drinking Soda. Soda intake has also been linked to hip fractures. One recent study found that every serving of soda consumed by postmenopausal women was associated with a 14-percent increase in hip fracture. This increased risk was present regardless of whether the soda consumed was regular or diet, cola or non-cola, caffeinated or non-caffeinated.
3) Get Your Vitamin D. Although doctors disagree on the levels of vitamin D required for optimal health, there appears to be a link between very low levels and hip fracture. For example, one study that included both older men and women found vitamin-D deficiency in 57 percent of 400 patients admitted for hip-fracture treatment. In another study, postmenopausal women between 80 and 85 years old and with low vitamin-D levels had a higher risk of hip fracture, with this risk doubling between 80 and 90 years of age.
4) Drink Alcohol...in Moderation. A recent meta-analysis of prior studies indicated that increased alcohol consumption was associated with increased risk of hip fracture. For those who drink, heavy alcohol consumption appeared to elevate fracture risk, whereas light consumption was associated with lower risks. So, for alcohol, moderation may be what's most important.
5) Stop Smoking. A recent study of elderly women and men found that heavy smokers had an increased risk of hip fracture compared with those that had never smoked. It also found that this risk was greater in those with a lower percentage of body fat, which suggests an interaction between smoking, fat mass and fracture risk.
5 Fitness Tips to Prevent Hip Fractures
1) Sit Less. We now know that prolonged sitting, a hallmark of many modern occupations, can cause a host of musculoskeletal problems. Increased fracture risk may be one of them since lower risks of hip fracture were found in women who spent more time standing than sitting (8).
2) Get Moving. In addition to sitting less during the day, being slightly more active may also reduce your risk of fracture. For example, women who walked for at least four hours per week (with no other exercise) had a 41 percent lower risk of hip fracture compared with those that walked less than an hour a week. Similar reductions in risk were also reported for men (9).
3) Improve Your Balance. Even in the presence of low bone mass, many hip fractures could be prevented. Progressively losing balance and/or coordination during aging is one factor that can contribute to a likelihood of falls.
A study of twins, which included both men and women, indicated that approximately 40 percent of hip fractures were tied to self-reported deficiencies in balance. Improving balance and coordination may be an indirect way to prevent hip fractures. Being careful and stable when performing complex movements is one way to minimize the risk of falling.
4) Build Your Strength. Studies that apply a strength-training program in the elderly and then assess fracture risk are tough to conduct. However, we know that high bone mass is associated with a reduced risk of hip fracture, and it just so happens that strength (resistance) training not only increases muscle mass in older populations, but it is a very effective approach to simultaneously increase bone mass.
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For example, 12 weeks of a heavy squat program in women with osteoporosis/osteopenia yielded 5 percent increases in bone mass of the hip, and a more moderate 18-month program in older men yielded 2 percent increases in hip-bone mass.
5) Keep Playing Sports. There's evidence that people who played sports when they were younger are more likely to have hip fractures later in life.
In one study, the average age of subjects' first hip fracture was about seven years later in life for males that were elite athletes compared with those who were not. While this protection may be at least partly tied to the long-term effects of improved balance and strength training in younger athletes, benefits appear possible in those that are older, as evidenced by senior athletes in high-impact sports having more bone mass than their low-impact counterparts.
So, once you work through the four tips above, adding some recreational sport activity may be a good way to round out your fitness and keep your hips strong as you age.
Readers -- Have you ever suffered a hip fracture? What steps do you take to stay healthy and fit as you get older? Did you find this article helpful? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Hayden-William Courtland, Ph.D., has an extensive background in basic science and medicine that spans the disciplines of biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, orthopedics and endocrinology. He also has an extensive background in strength and conditioning (CF-L2, CSCS and USAW Club Coach). Connect with Hayden on his website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.