It's true that our bones tend to lose strength as we get older. But even in later years there is plenty we can do to prevent falls and fractures.
Being inactive makes your muscles and bones lose strength. This increases your risk of osteoporosis, falls and fractures.
People over 65 should try to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, in bouts of 10 minutes or more, every week. Doing something is always better than doing nothing.
Moderate activity will raise your heart rate and make you breathe faster and feel warmer.
One way to tell if you're exercising at a moderate level is if you can still talk but can't sing the words to a song.
Examples of moderate intensity activities include:
- water aerobics
- ballroom and line dancing
- riding a bike on level ground or with few hills
- playing doubles tennis
- pushing a lawn mower
You should also try to do activities to improve muscle strength at least twice a week.
This could include:
- carrying groceries
- going up and down stairs
- exercising to music
- heavy gardening, such as digging or shovelling
- lifting weights
It's also a good idea to do activities to improve balance and co-ordination twice a week as this can reduce your risk of falling.
Activities such as yoga or tai chi are best for this. These types of activity can also ease stiffness and unsteadiness associated with painful joints.
You should also try to avoid sitting around for long periods. If you find you have been sitting for more than about 20-30 minutes, get up and go for a stroll. See more on the risks of sitting for long periods.
If you have a health condition such as heart disease or arthritis, you may be able to join a suitable group exercise class.
See physical activity guidelines for older adults.
Exercising with osteoporosis
If you have a high fracture risk or spinal fractures caused by osteoporosis, you need to look after your back.
It's especially important to bend your knees when lifting objects. Avoid movements that involve awkward bending and lifting movements.
You may need to be cautious about some types of high impact exercises. Your GP can advise you about this.
Eating for healthy bones
Some people find their appetite starts to drop as they get older. Eating less can make it more difficult to get the nutrients you need to keep muscles and bones strong and healthy.
Staying active will help to keep your appetite up. But if you don't feel like eating much some days, it's still important to try and stick to a healthy balanced diet.
For healthy muscles and bones, you need calcium, vitamin D and protein:
- calcium makes our bones (and teeth) strong and rigid
- vitamin D helps our bodies to absorb calcium
- protein is important for muscle strength
Another reason to eat a balanced diet is that it will help you to maintain a healthy body weight. Being underweight is linked to a higher risk of fractures.
If your diet isn't as good as it should be you may want to consider taking a dietary supplement.
Go for one that contains calcium and vitamin D. Your GP or pharmacist can help you choose one that's suitable for you.
Some medicines can affect your appetite. If you think a medicine you are taking may be affecting your appetite, perhaps because it makes you feel nauseous, talk with your pharmacist or GP. They may be able to suggest an alternative.
See more about food and diet for strong bones.
Vitamin D is important for both strong muscles and healthy bones. Our bodies make vitamin D from the action of the summer sunlight (from late March/April to the end of September) on our skin.
People who are not often exposed to the sun should take a daily vitamin D supplement. These include people:
- who are not often outdoors, such as those ware are frail or housebound
- who are in an institution, such as a care home
- who usually wear clothes that cover up most their skin when outdoors
People with dark skin such as those of African, African-Caribbean and South Asian origin might not get enough vitamin D from sunlight so they should consider taking a supplement throughout the year.
Find out more about taking vitamin D supplements.
Some foods contain vitamin D. These include oily fish such as mackerel and salmon, eggs, foods fortified with vitamin D such as fat spreads and some breakfast cereals.
However, it's difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone so all adults are advised to consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement, particularly during the winter months (October to March).
If you have osteoporosis, your GP may prescribe a calcium supplement, too.
Other ways to protect your bones
Other things to consider to help prevent falls and fractures:
- go for an eye test – poor eyesight can affect mobility and balance
- get your hearing checked – ear problems can affect your balance
- look after your feet – foot pain can affect your mobility
- review your medicines with your GP or pharmacist – some medicines can make you feel dizzy or drowsy
It's important you don't stop taking a medication without getting medical advice from a qualified health professional.