CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Among those 65 and older, falls are the leading cause of death by an injury. That's according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Falls are also the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma. Each year about 1.5 million fractures in the U.S. are due to osteoporosis, a decrease in bone mass and density that makes bones fragile and susceptible to fracture.
This makes the fact that March is National Nutrition Month particularly appropriate. Why? Because the basis for good health is maintaining a nutrient-dense diet. If you're eating right, you are probably doing other things right, like working on muscular strength. If you are staying active and combining cardio and strength training in your activity choices, it will go a long way toward promoting better balance and preventing falls.
Past your prime
It's never too late to build muscle and the rewards are immense. And challenging your muscles and joints in an appropriate way may be the best defense, considering the latest findings on bone health and supplementation.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force's recently recommended that healthy older women should not take calcium and vitamin D supplements to prevent fractures! That's pretty interesting news as it goes against everything our healthcare providers have been telling us for many years.
The new recommendations do not apply to people who are known to be vitamin D-deficient or who already have osteoporosis. However, the chairwoman of the task force said experts know that a medium dose of supplements -- less than 400 international units of vitamin D and less than 1,000 milligrams of calcium -- does not work
"We know these recommendations will be very frustrating to both physicians and patients, but it's a call to action to the research community," added Virginia Moyer, a professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.
I was surprised, and frustrated, by this most recent message, so I consulted my friend and go-to-girl on bone health to get her take. Cindy Fitch is a registered dietitian with a doctorate in nutrition from Case Western Reserve University as well as extension professor at WVU Extension Service.
Fitch said, "Peak bone density or mass is typically achieved between the ages of 18 to 25 years old. After that, we need to retain what we have (and replace what we lose) as a way to help prevent fractures. This is why in many respects osteoporosis is considered a pediatric disease. However, calcium and vitamin D are only part of the story."
Often we think that health issues have only one solution but a comprehensive approach, one that comes at it from a variety of angles, is usually the best course. This is why I appreciate the following information offered by Fitch.
• We know that calcium and vitamin D are important nutrients for bone health, but they don't work alone. There are many other nutrients that work to keep bones healthy (protein, phosphorous, magnesium, and vitamin K are a few). Getting calcium from foods helps to ensure we are getting a balance of nutrients that work together to keep bones healthy.
• It is not enough to take in calcium; our body needs to absorb it for it to work. A unhealthy diet that is too high in carbonated beverages or fatty foods will interfere with the body's ability to absorb calcium. A diet that is high in fruits and vegetables seems to increase calcium absorption.
• Sunlight on skin is the most reliable way to get vitamin D. The body makes what we need, but we need to delay putting on sunscreen for a short while, about 15 minutes. There is no need to get a sunburn. And we won't get much direct sunlight until spring officially arrives. Fortunately, our bodies store vitamin D during the sunny weather. Eggs, fish and fortified milk are the best food sources.
• Maintaining strong muscles around our bones decreases the risk of fractures in several ways. It improves our ability to maintain our balance, preventing falls. Muscles support the bones that they surround, and working those muscles stimulates bone health. While we may be too old to make our bones stronger, there is good evidence that we are never too old to make our muscles stronger through resistance training.
Stronger bones through SilverSneakers
Fitch's last point supports the advice given by fitness professionals who say that strength, a.k.a. resistance, training is one of the best ways to preserve bone integrity and improve joint health, both prime factors in preventing falls and improving outcomes should a fall occur.
If you are an older adult and would like to learn more about strengthening your muscles and joints, SilverSneakers classes, such as the Muscular Strength and Range of Movement, are perfect and easy to find in every state.
Go to www.silversneakers.com and type in your zip code under Find a Participating Fitness Location. Because it's primarily a seated class, most seniors can participate and have fun. And some insurance providers may pay for your gym membership if it includes the SilverSneakers program. You'll also meet the nicest instructors and friends.
Cindy Boggs, wellness presenter and author, is an ACE-certified instructor/trainer. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to cindys...@aol.com. Look for her award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World" on her website, www.cindysays.com.