En español | 1. Take a bone-density test (It's pain-free!)
This is a 15-minute test that measures the density of those bones most likely to fracture: your hip, spine, or wrists. If the results show that your bone density is less than that of others of your age, sex, weight, and race, then you may be at risk for developing the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis. Your doctor may prescribe medications to slow the rate of bone loss.
2. Build up your muscles
Even if you don't have osteoporosis, a regular exercise program can boost muscle strength and improve balance, coordination, and flexibility. "Weight-bearing activity can increase bone density," says Douglas P. Kiel, M.D., director of the Musculoskeletal Research Center at the Institute for Aging Research in Boston.
3. Power up with protein
"Take in enough protein to build up muscles," says Kiel, "and enough calcium and vitamin D for your bones to gain strength." A recent study finds that those who consumed less than 46 grams of protein a day suffered 50 percent more hip fractures. You'll also need at least 1,200 mg a day of calcium and 600 to 800 IUs of vitamin D, either in supplement form, in fortified foods, or through daily exposure to sunlight.
4. Request a fall-risk assessment
In addition to offering a physical exam, your doctor will likely ask a host of questions about medication use, vision or hearing loss, and other factors that can contribute to a fall. "Discuss your medications and any side effects. Understand what you are taking and how it should be taken," says the Center for Healthy Aging's Lynn Beattie. "Are you hydrating properly?" (Low hydration leads to dizziness, which can cause a fall.) "Are you getting your eyes examined at least annually, as recommended by the National Eye Institute?"
5. Appraise your home
Think your home is safe? Look around. Little things — throw rugs, television and phone cords, piles of newspapers — can trip you up, quite literally. Also make sure your home is adequately lit and that bathrooms are outfitted with grab bars and skid mats.
6. Be smart, don't slip
Mary Lou Mathis, 67, of Towson, Maryland, has fallen several times in the past three years, breaking first her ankle, then her hip. Now she is more careful; she never walks on ice without assistance and always uses handrails.
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