For older adults, falling can lead to serious injury, disability and loss of independence. Last week we talked about fall-proofing your home. Now let’s look at another very important step you can take to lower the risk of falling: EXERCISE.
Once you have made sure your home is safe, have talked to your doctor about medications that may cause dizziness and, if you have osteoporosis, are taking your calcium and vitamin D supplements, the next item on your agenda should be developing a regular exercise regimen. If you live in an assisted living community or CCRC like Bethany Village, chances are there is a certified exercise professional/trainer on staff who can help you design a program. Otherwise, ask your doctor for a referral to an exercise physiologist who understands the needs of older adults. If you are a beginner, you may feel more comfortable in a group class.
Exercise not only makes you stronger, it also helps improve balance, endurance, flexibility and mood. A program of regular strength and balance training as well a cardiovascular routine are the backbone of a good exercise plan. Even 15 minutes of activity, such as walking or swimming, done every other day can make a difference. Add yoga and tai chi for an extra dose of balance training.
If your doctor says it’s okay to begin exercising on your own, take a look at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) general strength training program for older adults. The CDC recommendations are comprehensive – and to some, perhaps overwhelming. Begin by focusing on just a few exercises that work the lower body and are specifically designed to help prevent falls. But don’t overdo it! For example, recent research suggests that strength training (often done using weights) should be done only three times per week to get fall-prevention benefits. Muscles need time to rest between sessions.
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- While standing at the kitchen sink, rise on your toes, then lower your heels to the ground, and then rock back on your heels and lift your toes before lowering again. (Hold on to the counter!)
- From a seated position, lift and straighten alternating legs.
- Carefully try easing into and out of a sitting position without using your hands.
- Stand on both feet and focus on a point on the wall for 30 seconds. Try not to move your body to steady yourself.
- Try to do the same thing while balancing on one foot. Do this next to a sturdy piece of furniture or counter that you can grab if need be.
For cardiovascular health
- Work up to 30 minutes of walking most days of the week.
Although exercise isn’t a surefire way to prevent falls, it can make a big difference – and it has many other health benefits. Before starting any exercise program, however, be sure to check with your doctor. People who have had hip replacements, for example, are restricted from certain movements.
Do you exercise regularly? Write a comment about your exercise activities.