January 2021

Patient Guidance: Stay Active to Reduce the Risk of Falling: 5 Exercises to Keep You Fit

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By Detric Smith

As people age, the risk of falling increases and so does the fear of having a fall-related accident. Indeed, some estimate that more than one-third of adults over age 65 fall every year. Part of that fear prevents many from engaging in physical activities. Rather than avoiding an active lifestyle, there are strategic, smart ways to stay active while decreasing the chance of falling. This article discusses 5 exercises with evidence to show they prevent falls by strengthening the body and improving coordination and balance.

Walking

It’s no secret that walking is a great exercise. It makes this list for many obvious reasons, and maybe some that are less obvious. Regular walking strengthens muscles and helps maintain a healthy weight. It aids with circulation and keeps joints in motion, critical for preventing falls. It also reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure and lowers high blood pressure if you already have it. Walking can also play a role in lowering high cholesterol, a leading cause of heart problems. Muscle weakness and blood pressure issues can increase the chance of falling, but fortunately, walking helps reduce these issues.

Other benefits of walking include an increase in Vitamin D, a vital component of bone health, and an opportunity for social interaction. When the weather permits, walking outside supplies your body with sunlight, the largest source of Vitamin D, and encourages social connection by inviting family members, neighbors, or friends to go on walks with you.

Walking for 30 minutes a day is a great target, but if you haven’t been active for a while, take it slow. Start with 10 minutes a day and gradually build up. If 10 minutes is too much, start with 5…the point is to move and avoid being sedentary.

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Tai Chi

Tai Chi is an ancient martial arts practice that originated in China. But we’re not talking Kung Fu movie martial arts. Tai Chi is not intense or physically demanding the way other forms of martial arts are. This exercise is often referred to as “meditation in motion.” It means you mix slow physical movements with conscious breathing, while maintaining a calm focused mind.

Research shows that participating in tai chi classes or doing the movements at home improves balance, muscle strength, and flexibility. All these physical gains lower the risk of having a fall. And the mental benefits of decreased stress and anxiety can help eliminate the fear of falling.

Water Aerobics

There’s a reason water fitness classes are so popular among the senior population. It’s a low-impact physical activity that increases cardiovascular health, builds muscles without straining them, and promotes weight loss. Also, there’s no risk of falling while doing the actual water aerobic exercises.

Plus, the classes themselves are a lot of fun and a great way to engage with your friends and community. Like walking and tai chi, water aerobics provide mental health benefits that can lower stress, anxiety levels, and symptoms of depression.3

Falls Prevention Facts

Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. Falls threaten seniors’ safety and independence and generate enormous economic and personal costs.

However, falling is not an inevitable result of aging. Through practical lifestyle adjustments, evidence-based falls prevention programs, and clinical-community partnerships, the number of falls among seniors can be substantially reduced.

The Challenge

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • One in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year.
  • Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
  • Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.
  • Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths.
  • In 2015, the total cost of fall injuries was $50 billion. Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75% of these costs.
  • The financial toll for older adult falls is expected to increase as the population ages and may reach $67.7 billion by 2020.

Falls, with or without injury, also carry a heavy quality of life impact. A growing number of older adults fear falling and, as a result, limit their activities and social engagements. This can result in further physical decline, depression, social isolation, and feelings of helplessness.

Source: National Council on Aging. For more information, visit ncoa.org

Chair Yoga

Chair yoga is a safe and accessible way for seniors to access the benefits of yoga without having to get down on a floor mat. Yoga postures build muscle strength, protect joints, improve circulation, lower blood pressure, and increase range of motion and flexibility. All these health advantages are not only great for maintaining fitness for life but also in preventing injury from slipping, tripping, or falling.

Strength Training

Strength training improves the way you move, your range of motion, and gives you the energy and strength to enjoy your favorite activities and everyday life. By following a customized training program from a professional, you learn essential tips and exercises that can assist you in fall prevention.

Besides reducing the risk of falling, strength training provides many other benefits:

  • Increases coordination
  • Improves balance
  • Increases confidence
  • Reduces pain
  • Improves metabolism
  • Helps prevent osteoporosis

Other Tips to Avoid Falling

In addition to staying active, there are other actions you can take to lower the risk of falls.

  • Talk to your doctor about all the medications you’re taking—prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and supplements. Ask if the side effects or combinations can cause dizziness, sedation, or nausea, as these could increase your fall risk.
  • Make an eye appointment to have your vision checked. And be sure to clean your glasses regularly.
  • Have your hearing checked. Hearing loss can play a role in increased risk for falls.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption. As your body processes alcohol, it leaves toxins in your liver that are not easily disposed of. Too many of these toxins can affect your equilibrium and balance.
  • Wear non-skid, rubber-soled shoes—preferably all the time. Avoid wearing socks alone or slippers around the house as they increase the chance of slips and slides, making you more prone to falling.

As the owner of Results Performance Training in Williamsburg, Virginia, Detric Smith helps people achieve their fitness goals through customized training and action-based coaching. Over the last two decades, Detric’s made it his mission to study the habits, strategies, and techniques of personal trainers and coaches who are successful and, most importantly, happy. To learn more, visit resultsperformancetraining.com and www.detricsmith.com

This article expands a blog post that originally appeared on MedFit Network, a professional organization for medical fitness (fitness and allied healthcare) professionals, one of LER’s partners. Their work can be found at medfitnetwork.org.

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