Exercise to Prevent Falls
~ By Jerome Stiller ~
The September issue of Primetime for Seniors featured an informative article article titled “Falls are Not a Normal Part of Aging”. The author notes the prevalence and problems associated with falling, and recommends a valuable free program called Stepping On. I want to stay with that theme and provide you with some information on exercises you can do to help prevent falls.
There are many factors that increase the risk of falls. They include personal factors such as age-related muscle loss and environmental factors such as the conditions of sidewalk and stairs. The more risk factors you have, the higher the likelihood of falling. But the research is clear that many of the risk factors are preventable; and they can be influenced to a very large extent by doing core, balance, and stabilization exercises.
The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) states that exercises that build balance and lower-body strength reduce the risk of falls among older adults by 33% or more. Old, established techniques such as yoga and Tai Chi are used by many older adults around the world to improve balance, reduce the likelihood of falls, and promote general health and well-being. These activities are available at many community recreation centers, senior centers, and retirement communities. Yoga and Tai Chi are good choices if you like to work out in a group setting.
Especially as we age, the deep core muscles needed to stabilize the back and hips can be neglected. We need our core stabilization system to most efficiently and effectively use our strength, power, neuromuscular control, and muscular endurance. A weak core may lead to inefficient and unbalanced movements, which in turn may produce problems such as muscle overcompensation and poor use and transfer of muscular forces. Another benefit of core exercise is that it can help to manage chronic pain.
Core-stabilization exercises don’t require much spinal or pelvic movement, and so they be relatively accessible for older adults. These goal of these exercises is to improve the ability of the core to contribute to the body’s overall stabilization system. Some of the best exercises include:
- Prone Isometric Abs: contract and hold your abs while on the floor in the elbow plank position.
- Marching: lie on your back, raise your hips on the floor, and alternate raising each foot.
- Arm/Opposite Leg Raise: on all 4s, alternate raising your arm and the opposite leg.
Each of these exercises should be performed for 1-4 sets of 12-20 repetitions with a 30-90 second rest between sets.
Core-strength exercises are more dynamic with an increased range of motion. The goal of these exercises is to improve overall core strength. Some of the best exercises include:
- Ball Crunch: perform standard ab crunches while laying on a stability ball.
- Cable Rotations: holding a cable handle about chest height, rotate your torso slowly to each side.
- Ball Back Extensions: raise your upper body while laying on a stability ball with your feet on the ground.
Balance exercises can help prevent ankle sprains and other lower-body injuries as well as decrease overall fall risk. Balance-stabilization exercises don’t require much joint movement, and so are available to most seniors. Some of the best exercises include:
- Single-Leg Balance: alternate standing on one foot while raising the other foot.
- Single-Leg Balance with Reach: stand on one foot and extend the raised foot behind you.
- Single Leg Balance with Support: the exercises may be done while resting a hand on a chair or wall.
In addition, there are many stabilization exercises that may be done with dumbbells or resistance bands while sted on a stability ball, such as overhead presses and chest presses. Using an unstable platform involves your core muscles to help you maintain balance while moving against the resistance.
There are many simple balance and stability exercises you can do on your own, with a group or through a program like Stepping On. A certified personal trainer or other healthcare professional can guide you with exercises for balance and stability, and can make sure that you do them safely and effectively.
Jerome Stiller is a Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Senior Fitness Specialist, Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist, and has a Masters Degree in Psychology. He specializes in adults age 40 and over. You can reach him at stillerfitness.com or 303-885-3531.