This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
No one wants to think about hip fractures. The very thought is a cruel reminder that we might not be spry, balanced and agile for life. But when it comes to preventing hip fractures, as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And to prevent this deadly injury, it’s critical to be proactive in your 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, because the older we get, the more likely it is that breaking a hip will lead to permanent disability or death.
Just about anyone age 50 or older has at least one or two risk factors for hip fracture that are entirely preventable — in other words, they are risks you can fix.
Here are the top six “fixable” risk factors for hip fracture:
#1: Low Vitamin D Levels
Research shows that an astonishing percentage of people who end up in emergency rooms for orthopedic surgery are low in vitamin D. Having adequate vitamin D levels helps to prevent bone fractures and can make all the difference in the speed and smoothness of your recovery if you do break your hip.
Get your vitamin D level to about 50 ng/ml. Start now by increasing your intake to 2,000-4,000 IU a day. Get your blood levels checked to make sure you get and stay at a healthy level.
#2: Being Inactive
Not exercising allows your muscle mass to shrink as you age, until you are frail, unsteady on your feet and an accident waiting to happen. It also causes you to lose bone density. On the other hand, exercise helps to rebuild muscle mass, even in very old people. That has been proven in studies to lead to fewer falls and hip fractures. Regular exercise also preserves bone density and improves the outcome of other bone-rebuilding strategies, including nutrition.
There are some very specific exercises you can do to strengthen your hips and lower back. Check out Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., founder and director of the StrongWomen Program, a community strength training program for midlife and older women.
#3: Low Calcium Intake
Calcium is a cornerstone of bone nutrition. But for real protection, you need to get about 1,000 mg of calcium a day, consistently, for years. And you need to take it with adequate vitamin D.
Get into the habit of taking a calcium supplement at bedtime, in an amount that makes up for what is lacking your diet. (You can take vitamin D then, too.) Taking calcium and vitamin D consistently after menopause is estimated to result in a 10% improvement in bone mineral density, and a 50% overall reduction in fracture rates.
#4: Not Enough Trace Minerals
Only a varied, whole foods diet — or a good multivitamin — can provide the trace minerals needed to build bones. For instance, copper and zinc both slow bone loss by inhibiting bone breakdown. And manganese and zinc are essential for enzymes needed for bone formation. Research shows that trace minerals in combination with calcium are better at building bone than calcium alone.
#5: Low Vitamin K Levels
Most multivitamins don’t contain vitamin K, so you’ll need to take it separately or get it from foods like leafy greens such as spinach and parsley. Vitamin K is responsible for activation of osteocalcin, a biochemical that attracts calcium to bone. Low levels of vitamin K are associated with fractures of the hip and spine in postmenopausal women. Research shows that you may need four times the RDA of 60 micrograms a day of vitamin K2 to reduce fracture risk. So that’s a total each day of 240 micrograms. The average intake is only 70-80 micrograms a day.
#6: Inadequate Protein
Adequate protein is needed to build muscle and bone. While younger people may not need to be concerned about this, there is good evidence that many older people, especially women, are skimping on protein.
Whey protein, from milk, is excellent for muscle-building. And soy protein contains plant estrogens that help bones stay stronger. Get at least 46 grams a day of protein, ideally from varied sources. That’s about 4-6 ounces of a protein-rich source such a meat, milk, eggs or tofu.