Staying Strong and Flexible: Exercise Advice to Help Seniors Prevent Falls
Exercise is essential for people of all ages. Just because you pass a certain age doesn’t mean regular physical activity becomes any less important. In fact, seniors need exercise as much as ever, perhaps more given the gradual decline in physical strength and mobility that accompanies the aging process. When older adults lose muscle mass and strength in their arms and lower bodies, falls are often the result. Sarcopenia, or severe muscle loss, is a serious condition because diminished strength makes it difficult to catch yourself if you fall. It also means you’re more likely to suffer a bone break, because there’s insufficient muscle mass to protect your bones.
Sarcopenia, loss of balance, poor vision and loss of feeling in the feet and legs combine to make seniors 65 and older far more vulnerable to falls than any other age group. A diet rich in vitamin D and calcium can help counteract some of the effects of muscle loss and physical enfeeblement, but nothing helps quite like a regular exercise regimen aimed at boosting muscle strength and restoring balance. Indoor walking, stretching and strength and balance exercises can help ward off muscle loss and build strength.
Start in a standing position with feet at shoulder width, with a chair next to you for balance as you get started. With a straightened back, take a step forward with one foot and bending your front knee until the back knee is nearly touching the ground. Push forward and return to a standing position. Do the same thing with your other leg, do five repetitions for each leg, and gradually increase to 10 reps.
Work the triceps
Try this one to build strength in your upper arms, which are important for preventing falls. Stand to the side of a heavy chair. With a two-pound weight in the hand opposite the chair, bend forward at the waist and place your other hand on the chair. Bend your opposite arm at waist level with your elbow on your waist and extending your forearm behind you. Pull the weight back to your waist and repeat 10 times per arm.
Sit down in a chair. Holding on to its bottom with both hands, extend a leg straight outward and slowly pull your knee in toward your chest, but leave your upper body stationary. Extend your leg back out and slowly lower your foot, and repeat with the other leg, beginning with five repetitions per leg until you feel ready to do 10 reps.
This is a good exercise for both balance and muscle strength and flexibility. Begin standing with your feet together. Slowly bend down to reach your fingers toward your toes, keeping your legs straight throughout. Slowly return to a fully-upright position. Be careful to bend only as far as you’re able to without risking a strain or pull.
Heel to toe
Walking heel to toe is another good way to improve your balance. Begin with your feet together. Take one step forward with either leg, then take a step with the other leg, placing the heel directly in front of the toes of the other foot; repeat the same movement with the other leg. Keep repeating the process, moving in a straight line for 10 feet, gradually increasing to 20 feet as you feel able.
Strength and balance are the keys to preventing falls. Performing a daily exercise routine designed to improve both as well as muscle flexibility can help ward off sarcopenia and help you maintain a solid core and lower body.