It's true that our bones tend to lose strength as we get older. But even in later years, there's 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 (2 and a half hours) of moderate-intensity exercise every week. It's best to do some exercise every day, spread across the day. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Exercise outdoors if you can and build up slowly.
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
Activities for strength
You should also try to do activities to improve muscle strength at least twice a week.
This could include:
- lifting weights
- carrying groceries
- going up and down stairs
- exercising to music
- heavy gardening, such as digging or shovelling
Activities for balance and flexibility
It's also a good idea to do activities to improve balance and flexibility 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 can do activities twice a week that combine moderate-intensity exercise with improving your strength, balance and flexibility or you can do different activities.
You should also try to avoid sitting around for long periods. If you find you have been sitting for more than about 20 to 30 minutes, get up and go for a stroll. See more about why we should sit less.
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 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 to stick to a healthy, balanced diet.
For healthy muscles and bones, you need calcium, vitamin D and protein:
- calcium keeps our bones and teeth healthy
- vitamin D helps our bodies to absorb calcium
- protein is important for muscle maintenance
Another reason to eat a balanced diet is that it will help you to maintain a healthy body weight. Keep your weight up. 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're 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 for healthy 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. All adults are advised to consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement, particularly during the winter months (October to March).
People who are not often exposed to the sun should take a daily vitamin D supplement throughout the year.
These include people who:
- are not often outdoors, such as those who are frail or housebound
- are in an institution, such as a care home
- usually wear clothes that cover up most of 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 vitamin D.
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.
But it's difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone.
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:
- quit smoking and try these tips to help you cut down on alcohol
- 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
- make your home safer to avoid accidents
It's important you do not stop taking a medicine without getting advice from a qualified health professional.
Read more about preventing falls.
- Exercises to promote bone and muscle strength (video and PDF) on the Royal Osteoporosis Society website
Video: Are you at risk of a fall? The timed get up and go test
Watch this video to find out how to test whether you or a loved one are at risk of a fall.
Media review due: 29 September 2024