Stumbling, tripping, falling flat on the floor, we've all been there. An estimated one in three people over 65 have at least one fall each year, and while most injuries are minor, data from the UK Hip Fracture Database (NHFD) shows that 65,000 patients over 60 sustained a hip fracture in 2015.
In fact, hip fracture is the most common serious injury in older people, and as many as one in seven postmenopausal women will experience a broken hip at some point during their lifetime.
The good news is there are plenty of steps you can take to lower your risk, from strengthening your skeleton and preventing osteoporosis (weakened, brittle bones), to improving your balance.
Here are 20 tips to get you started.
Prevent falls and stay steady with Saga
Follow a Mediterranean diet
An overview of studies published last year revealed that post-menopausal women who follow a Mediterranean diet rich in bone-strengthening fruit, veggies, wholegrains and oily fish, and low in refined carbs and red meat, are 20% less likely to experience a hip fracture.
10 healthy Mediterranean foods
Watch your weight
If your body mass index (BMI) is under 18.5, you may be at a higher risk of hip fracture. Research indicates that underweight people are more prone to osteoporosis and fractures as they tend to lack an adequate intake of nutrients such as calcium, which are essential for strong, healthy bones.
Increase your calcium intake
Most of us have no problem getting enough calcium from our diets, but people who are underweight or who follow a vegan diet may be at risk of developing a deficiency and might require a supplement. If your BMI is under 18.5 or you're strictly meat and dairy-free, it's worth speaking to your doctor, who may refer you to a dietitian.
Is the vegan diet healthy?
Take a vitamin D supplement
Vitamin D is key as it helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential for strong bones. Unless you're dining on oily fish every day, your vitamin D levels are likely to be low during the winter months. The NHS suggests a daily supplement of 10 micrograms (mcg). As always, check with your GP before taking any supplement.
Vitamin D and fractures
10 ways to boost your vitamin D levels
Practise safe sun exposure
Sunlight triggers the production of vitamin D in the body and from April to the end of September, the sun in the UK is strong enough for most people to produce adequate amounts. As long as you keep it brief and don't overdo it, regular sun exposure during the warmer months of the year can help strengthen your bones and reduce your risk of osteoporosis.
Vitamin D and skin cancer: getting the balance right
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
Study after study has shown that HRT lowers the risk of osteoporosis and hip fracture in women over 50 because it prevents thinning of the bones. You can discuss the pros and cons of taking HRT with your GP.
Is HRT safe to take?
Which type of HRT is right for you?
Go easy on the alcohol
Cutting back on booze will help you cut your risk of falls and hip fracture – we all know how unsteady on our feet we can be if we drink too much. Excessive drinking also heightens the side effects of certain medications and increases the risk of osteoporosis.
Are you drinking more than you think?
Likewise, smoking increases the risk of osteoporosis – the toxins in cigarettes damage the bones and reduce their density. Smoking also damages nerve endings in the toes and feet, which can lead to more falls and broken bones. No wonder smokers are twice as likely to have a fracture.
Good reasons to give up smoking
Get infections treated fast
A 2015 study by a team of US researchers reported that infections could be behind as many as 45% of falls in older people, particularly urinary tract infections (UTIs), which can cause disorientation and joint weakness. If you experience the tell-tale symptoms such as uncomfortable urination, see you GP as soon as possible.
Bladder health: urinary tract infections
Six common causes of forgetfulness
Review your meds
Certain medications can cause drowsiness, muscle weakness or problems with co-ordination, which can increase your risk of a fall. Make a habit of reviewing your meds with your doctor at least once a year so you're up to speed with all the possible side effects.
Hit the gym
Exercising for 30 minutes, five times a week will bolster your bones, improve balance and co-ordination, and reduce your risk of a fall. Age UK estimates as many as 7,000 lives could be saved each year if widespread exercises programmes were rolled out to prevent hip fractures from falls.
Five tips for preventing falls
Focus on weight-bearing exercises and resistance training
Weight-bearing exercises like brisk walking and aerobics help keep bones dense and robust, while resistance training involves using your body or weights to build bone-protecting muscle – think leg-lifts, squats and weightlifting exercises. These are the exercises you should focus on.
Your home muscle-strengthening programme
Improve your balance
Exercises that improve balance and co-ordination are also important. Several studies indicate that Tai Chi can reduce the risk of falls among older people in particular, while research suggests that regular yoga-based exercise can lower the risk of fall-induced injuries by a third.
Off balance? Find your feet with these tips
Take your time
A study of people who had sustained injuries from falls found that 66% of the participants were rushing around to some extent before they fell. Easier said than done, but if you can, slow down, allocate more time for journeys and chores, and take things doubly easy.
Wear slip-proof footwear
Icy winter pavements are a major fall hazard, so it's definitely worth investing in a decent pair of snow boots or walking boots with deep grips to stabilise your step. Failing that, get some ice grips, which you can slide over any pair of shoes to improve their traction.
Invest in some hip protectors
Padded hip protectors break your fall, not your bones. Old school pads tend to be bulky and uncomfortable, so opt for new generation protectors made from D30, a super-soft, pliable shock-absorbent material. Hip protectors made from D30 are so comfy, they can even be worn in bed.
Fall-proof your living space
Believe it or not, most falls actually occur inside the home, so you really want to make your living space as fall-proof as possible. Top suggestions include placing anti-slip mats in the bath and on the bathroom floor, repairing loose carpet, clearing up any clutter and installing lighting in dark areas.
Preventing falls and accidents at home
Snap up a walking stick or set of Nordic poles
You can of course steady your step and reduce your risk of falling by walking with a stick. If you find traditional walking sticks a bit frumpy, opt for a trendy Nordic pole – they have a rubber tip for walking on pavements, which you can remove for increased traction on gravel, mud, ice or snow.
Get your eyes tested
Poor eyesight, whether it's caused by short or long-sightedness or a condition such as cataracts, is a major risk factor for falls and hip fracture. RNIB recommends a minimum of one eye test a year for people aged 60 or over, so book a test if it's been a long while since your last check-up.
Is it time for an eye test?
Tackle your fear of falling
Paradoxically, studies show that feeling overly anxious about falling can actually increase your risk of a fall. If you find yourself worrying excessively, speak to your GP, who may suggest cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help you conquer your fear.
Prevent falls and stay steady with Saga