On the first day of a month-long trip to Kyoto, Japan, one of my friends (age 64) was gawking at a temple when she missed a step, lost her balance, fell on a curb and broke several ribs. Luckily, this nurse and outdoor girl enjoyed her trip despite the pain. She was just grateful the fall did not cause a broken hip!
My friend’s story as well as our clients, who need hospital-to-home transition care due to falls, remind me to keep up on my exercise routine and to recognize Falls Prevention Awareness Day on September 23.
Improved Balance Maintains Senior Quality of Life
In fact, my personal trainer Lindsay Ferrer incorporates balance, strength and flexibility exercises into our every session. Lindsay tells me that balance is important to help us maintain our Activities of Daily Living (ADL) such as getting in and out of the car, reaching for groceries and climbing stairs. We also need to have good balance to manage unknown situations such walking on bumpy paths and streets with potholes.
As we all know from our own or others’ experiences, when we lose balance and fall, we often lose a piece of our independence and quality of life. We might even lose our lives. According to an article in Medical News Today, for the elderly, falling can be life threatening. Among the elderly who break a hip, 80 percent die within a year.
Top Causes of Senior Falls
But what causes people over 65 to fall? Michael A. Bearce, executive director of Fall Prevention Clinics of America says that most of the reasons are avoidable and not necessarily a normal part of aging.
Top Five Causes of Balance Problems for Seniors:
- Using medication incorrectly may lead to dizziness.
- 75% people with dizziness suffer from inner ear disorder
- Poor vision due to wrong glasses or conditions such as glaucoma
- Need to exercise more to reduce chances of falling
- Half of falls happen at home – make it safer or “fall” proof
Exercise to Prevent Senior Falls
So, after we check our medical issues and clean up the house, how can we become more body aware on the road to falls prevention? Lindsay suggests people take responsibility for their quality of life and independence starting in their 40s, 50s and into our 60s.
“We need to create challenges to maintain balance into our older years,” says Lindsay. “So along with balance exercises, we need to work on power or strength exercises. To get up from a seated position, for example, you need both balance and power.”
How to Start Falls Prevention Exercises
But how can we get going? Exercising is hard work!
Lindsay says we can start at any age to improve our balance and strength. It can even be fun if you try a few strategies. For example, Lindsay makes training fun for me by using music I like and changing the routine around. Others might enjoy Silver Sneakers® or EnhanceFitness group fitness fun at their local “Y”, community or fitness center. You might want to try water aerobics, too. Otherwise, get a gaggle of pals together for regular walks and/or try a few exercises at home.
The National Institute of Health offers these suggestions, which should first be discussed with your physician. In the beginning, use a chair or the wall for support will help you work on your balance safely. As you progress, try them holding on with only one hand, one finger or with no hands.
Five Easy Balance Exercises for Seniors:
- standing on one foot
- walking heel to toe
- balance walk – lift knees up as walk
- back leg raises
- side leg raises
Let’s Work on Balance and Strength
As we approach Falls Prevention Awareness Day, let’s all think and act on what we can do to avoid falls and maintain the highest quality of life possible. For one, with Lindsay’s guidance I intend to keep challenging myself on the balance ball and using weights to build strength. I need to continue to develop balance, power and flexibility so I can enjoy my later years to the max!
What do you do to improve balance and strength? What is your favorite exercise?