The older we get, the more dangerous the implications of a slip-and-fall accident. Falls are the number one cause of both fatal and nonfatal injury in older Americans. In fact, one in four seniors over the age of 65 suffers from a fall and its implications every year in the United States. Seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia are at an even greater risk of falls and injury. Long-term consequences of a fall include fractures and head injuries that impede mobility, reduce independence, and increase the risk of another fall in the future. Furthermore, falls can cause serious harm to a person’s mental health, including decreased confidence, an engendered fear of falling, and depression.
The answer to why older people are more susceptible to falls and their complications lies in many different factors. For one, eyesight deteriorates with time — older people have a harder time seeing obstacles and tripping hazards. Furthermore, the medications seniors are on often have side effects like dizziness or loss of equilibrium, both of which contribute to falls. The effects of health conditions or surgery can also make a person weaker, making them more susceptible to environmental hazards. And, of course, those who are particularly adventurous face a higher risk for fall simply due to their active lifestyle. However, that doesn’t mean seniors should be sedentary — just maybe skip the bungee jumping. In fact, skipping exercise can make falls worse.
Exercise and Senior Fall Prevention
While most people become less active as they age, regular exercise is an important part of fall prevention in seniors. According to data drawn from 2013 trials that tested the effect of fall-prevention exercises on seniors’ risk of falls and fall-related injuries, the programs used reduced minor injury-causing falls by 37 percent, falls leading to serious injuries by 43 percent, and fractured bones by 61 percent. The exercises used in the studies varied, but many of them focused on improving overall balance.
Simply making it through your daily activities takes strong muscles, bones, and good balance. When we are younger, we take for granted how easy it is for our young bodies to get us from point A to point B. However, as we age muscle mass decreases, our bones lose density, and our equilibrium is thrown off. While you can’t turn back the hands of time, you can exercise to reduce its effects, improve balance, and even rebuild lost tissue in the body. In other words, regular physical exercise reduces a senior’s chance of falling.
Exercises for Seniors
There is always a bit of disparity regarding how much a person should exercise, but Livestrong suggests seniors perform 15 to 30 minutes of moderately heart-pumping exercise daily with at least two sessions per week of muscle-strengthening activities. In addition to fall prevention, exercise has many other benefits for seniors. Regular physical activity reduces the risks of developing heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain cancers. Furthermore, exercise is good for seniors’ mental health, as it improves mood, reduces anxiety, and prevents depression. There is no evidence that exercise can prevent dementia, but it can postpone memory loss caused by diseases like Alzheimer’s.
As far as heart-pumping exercise goes, seniors should stick with what they know they like. Running, biking, dancing, swimming, and even simply walking are all good choices for cardio workouts. As far as strengthening exercises go, seniors don’t have to make the trek to a gym to build muscle. There are plenty of effective at-home exercises and senior-friendly options available, including fitness apps, Wii games, and exercise videos on YouTube. And if you’re feeling social, you can apply for a gym membership.
Below are a few of the exercises that are beneficial to seniors.
Balance training is especially important for seniors and should be performed at least three times a week. Seniors can also try practices like yoga and Pilates, which incorporate concentrated balance poses.
Step exercises combine the benefits of an aerobic workout with strength and balance training. They are especially helpful when it comes to keeping your legs and knees limber.
Resistance training or strength exercises work and build muscle mass. You can build strength by lifting weights or using resistance bands, weight machines, or your own body weight.
Falls have serious health implications for seniors, but they can prevent falls with the help of exercise. Seniors should work out at least 150 minutes a week, combining cardio-pumping activities as well as balance training, step exercises, and muscle-building resistance training. Not only do these things help prevent falls, they contribute to a happier and healthier life.
Claire Wentz is the creator of caringfromafar.com and author of the upcoming book, Caring from Afar: A Comprehensive Guide for Long-Distance Senior Caregivers. Claire is a former home health nurse and recognizes that our aging population means many more people will become senior caregivers over the years. Specifically, she is interested in providing assistance and support to those caregivers who do not live near their loved ones. She hopes her writing will inform them, uplift them, and give them peace of mind when they need it.