With Osteoporosis, Falls Can Be Detrimental

When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg falls, it makes international news.

This month, the 85-year-old justice fell while at work subsequently breaking three ribs.

The news set the Internet ablaze with well wishes and concerns.

Yet, Ginsburg was out of the hospital and back at work the following day — an extraordinary feat for anyone.

Falls can be detrimental to older people. They’re the leading cause of injury in people over 65. The National Council on Aging estimates that 1 in 4 adults over the age of 65 fall and get hurt every year.

Healthy aging means taking care of your bone density and that’s something to start in your 30s.

Exercise is one of the best ways to prevent a host of diseases, including osteoporosis, but you have to be particular about the type, explained Dr. Hayley Moak-Blest, a specialist in family medicine at Lahey Health Primary Care, Hamilton-Wenham.

“We really want to see people exercising the majority of days in the week, and including some weight-bearing exercises,” Dr. Moak-Blest said. She added “weight-bearing” doesn’t necessarily mean lifting weights — walking, jogging, jumping rope, yoga or skiing can provide a healthy amount of resistance on the bones to make them stronger.

Ginsburg is known to work out with a trainer multiple days a week and her excellent physical condition is likely why she was able to recover so quickly.

The body constantly absorbs and replaces bone tissue. As one ages, and due to a myriad of factors, sometimes the bone creation doesn’t keep pace with removal. This condition is called osteoporosis, which means porous bone.

About 54 million Americans have osteoporosis and low bone mass, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Studies suggest that approximately one in two women and one in four men age 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis.

Bone loss can start as early as 40 and is critical in preventing detrimental falls in advanced age.

“People can die within a year of breaking a hip because they get stuck in bed, get pneumonia or a blood clot. It’s multifactorial,” Dr. Moak-Blest said. “It’s not that these people die in surgery but the quality of life is pretty poor for that year and death rates are pretty high.”

Aside from exercising, other lifestyle changes that will add to bone density include quitting smoking, curbing your alcohol intake, maintaining proper levels of vitamin D and eating a healthy diet with plenty of calcium-rich foods, such as dark, leafy greens or dairy.

“I encourage my patients not to drink every night,” Dr. Moak-Blest said. “Even for occasional drinkers, excess alcohol intake is also not great for the bones. Lifestyle is so important.”

And Dr. Moak-Blest starts discussing healthy lifestyle early because the effects of bone loss is sneaky — most of the time people don’t realize their bones are frail until they break one.

The takeaway: protect your bones early on so that if you fall in your 80s, you too can go back to work the next day.

For information on how to prevent osteoporosis, speak with your Lahey Health provider.


*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

MORE IN Live Well