Some 300,000 Americans fracture their hips each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These injuries can be extremely dangerous and debilitating. About 1 in 5 of those who fracture their hips will die within a year, according to a recent study.
To avoid hip fractures, follow these tips for healthy hips. Make sure to consult a physical therapist if you are experiencing pain, discomfort or instability during exercise.
1. Avoid overstretching and overexertion
Physical therapists can help you with your pain signals for overstretching, overexertion and exceeding your range of motion, says Keelan Enseki, chair of the American Physical Therapist Association’s hip special interest group and the director of clinical practice innovation at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Rehabilitation Institute. “If you try to push through that, you’re going to cause problems.”
Whenever you are in a stretch and the pain increases as you spend time in it, you should stop, says Urvika Choksey, M.D., medical chair of the Yale New Haven Hospital integrated hip fragility fracture program. Another sign you need to pull back on an exercise is when you feel a deep or shooting pain, Enseki says. When patients come in who have been doing one exercise such as running or dancing their whole lives, the answer may not be to give up the exercise. Sometimes a cross-training approach works best, for example, running fewer days and alternating running with other types of exercise.
2. Choose gentle exercises as part of your fitness plan
“Do gentle yoga that opens your hips to improve strength and flexibility, but stop when your body tells you to,” says CoreBarreFit cofounder Fred Devito. “There’s a natural point during a stretch where your body just stops,” he says. Any further push from there should be what your body does naturally by breathing into a stretch. Breathing into a stretch means simply holding a stretch at your natural stopping point, but exploring whether your body stretches a little further while you take deep breaths.
Try other hip- and joint-friendly exercises, too, such as swimming, cycling, walking and tai chi, says Tamara Huff, M.D., CEO of VIGEO Orthopedics.
3. Do a variety of exercises throughout the week
Don’t do any one exercise as your only workout. Based on a recent study, exercises that combine balance, joint motion and strength resistance may be more effective at preventing falls than a single-focus exercise program. “Walking is good, but it’s not enough for reducing hip fractures,” Choksey says. “You want to also include some resistance training and some stretching.”
4. Set up your home to avoid falls
One of the easiest ways to avoid falls is to set up your home so that you’re less likely to trip over cords, pets or rugs. Choksey suggests night-lights to avoid tripping when going to the bathroom at night, decluttering to clear paths and being wary of rug edges. Also helpful: Make sure you get vision exams and hearing checkups.
In addition, watch out for unexpected beings or items in your path. For instance, Choksey has had patients come in because they’ve fallen as a result of tripping over their cat or dog. If you have pets, watch carefully for where they are when you are walking through your home. Also, watch for where they may have placed their toys and treats. Develop an evening routine that includes looking for and carefully putting away your pets’ toys at the end of the night. Creating a checklist for falls with your doctor or physical therapist that includes items you can check off every day may help, too.
For more tips on how to avoid falls at home, read AARP’s article on fall prevention.
5. Vary your work and hobby positions
Exercise is great, but how you move throughout the day also matters, says Enseki. When gardening, for example, vary your position to avoid putting too much strain on your body, he says. You may want to sit sometimes instead of squatting, and try alternating which hand you’re using to dig or weed.
If you’re sitting for long stretches while at work, Enseki recommends using a back support on your chair. Make sure to get up when you can — at least once an hour — and walk around for a few minutes. Standing at a desk for a full eight-hour day may not be good for someone with knee or hip pain, he says. Instead, work in a variety of positions. When watching television, the best position is sitting up straight with back support and your knees bent at 90 degrees, according to Choksey.
6. Check your vitamin D and calcium levels
Vitamin D and calcium are the most important nutrients for your bone health, Choskey says. Have your doctor check your levels via blood tests to insure you are getting enough before you start taking supplements or make dietary changes. Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption, she says.
However, too much vitamin D can cause “nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, confusion, pain, loss of appetite, dehydration, excessive urination and thirst, and kidney stones,” according to the National Institute of Health, so be careful not to get more than the recommended amount.
7. Get enough protein throughout the day
In addition to vitamin D and calcium for bone health, protein is known to help preserve bone mass, according to Choksey. The CDC recommends at least 46 grams of protein for women age 51 or older and 56 grams of protein for men age 51 or older. Based on the latest research into protein needs for older bodies, AARP’s Whole Body Reset recommends 25 to 30 grams per meal for slowing muscle loss and weight gain.
Common ways to get protein are through beans, meat, poultry and fish. However, grains, fruit and vegetables can also contribute to your protein intake. For instance, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, a cup of asparagus or passion fruit has over 5 grams of protein. Granted, that’s not as much as a cup of diced turkey, which has 37 grams of protein, but it can add up when creating a balanced diet with a variety of foods.
Your exact protein requirements can vary for reasons such as how much you exercise or whether you have diabetes or another condition. Make sure to consult a medical professional before making any major diet or exercise routine changes.