It can happen to anyone—tripping and falling is just a part of walking upright. But as we get older, the odds of taking a tumble increase, and the repercussions are potentially more serious. So, how can we stack the deck in our favor? Here are some fall prevention tactics and exercises.
Let’s first focus on fall prevention. Falls happen for a number of reasons: balance issues, lack of strength, and sometimes chronic illness.
We lose our ability to balance as we age. The vestibular system, our internal balance system is located in our inner ear. As we age, the inner ear fluid dries up a bit, throwing our system into imbalance. We can also have issues with balance related to the vestibular system if we are sick, or injured. Typically that manifests as vertigo or dizziness, but it can be as subtle as an overall loss of balance. If this is the case, there are therapies that can be initiated that will help to rebalance this system. One that’s often done for vertigo is the Epley Maneuver. It’s a technique that I’ve been taught, but typically, this is done by a physical therapist. Once taught, you can also perform it yourself.
Loss of Strength
Remember that we lose 5% of our muscle mass every decade, from 35 years on. That means if we do nothing about it with weight lifting or strengthening exercises, we will be not only weaker but will also have to reduce our caloric intake 150-450 calories per decade just to maintain our weight. That loss of muscle is HUGE when it comes to balance. If you are not actively working against time, it will catch up with you, and manifest as a weaker, frailer, and tentative you.
Additionally, your bones need to be stimulated with weight-bearing exercise to continue to stay strong. That means that if you do nothing, not only will your balance suffer, but if you fall, the results can be devastating, in the form of a pelvic or hip fracture. The answer here unequivocally is WEIGHT LIFTING. I’m not talking about donning a weight belt and doing Olympic lifts; I’m simply saying you need to get yourself into the gym, and at the very least, do the weight machines 3 times per week.
Illness can also play a role in balance struggles. Consider neurological disorders like Parkinson’s, or Multiple Sclerosis, which often include foot drop, weakening in certain muscles, over tightening or spacticity (also called hypertonic) in others. These muscular imbalances cause problems with walking, steadiness, and balance when moving or standing. In a lot of cases, the symptoms can come on suddenly, like an unexpected burst of tone, or sudden fatigue that seemingly comes out of nowhere.
The answer here can vary by case, with medication playing a definite role. But, like in other situations, exercise and stretching play an important role in consistently rebalancing the muscles to ensure the best possible outcome.
Balance Exercises for Fall Prevention:
These three are a good start for almost anyone, although if you are particularly tentative, you can, of course, begin by holding on to something sturdy.
The flamingo stand entails simply lifting one leg, and holding it off the floor while you balance on the other foot. Start with 5 seconds, and work your way up to 30 seconds.
The single limb stance with arm can be a same side or opposite side exercise. Here, the left arm and left leg are simultaneously held up—again start with 5 seconds per side, and work your way up to 30.
Toe the line—this exercise is designed to work on your precision. Heel to toe, heel to toe, moving forward slowly in a straight line. Start with 5-10 steps, work your way up to 30.
Written by Melissa Abramovich, ACE CPT, NASM CGT, AAHFRP Medical Exercise Specialist at Elite Sports Club-River Glen
Melissa Abramovich went into Personal Training and Group Exercise instruction after successfully losing 140 pounds through healthy diet and exercise. Her desire to help others drove her forward into a career helping others to make healthier choices. She is an ACE certified personal trainer and now also a Medical Exercise Specialist (AAHFRP), helping clients with a myriad of health issues at Elite Sports Clubs. She holds a Bachelor’s degree, and many group exercise related certifications as well.
This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. All material in this article is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise, or other health program.