by Lida Johnson
There’s a month or day for practically everything. I didn’t know until recently that September is Falls Prevention Month! I’ve been touting long before I knew about Falls Prevention Month that working on stability, flexibility, and core will help prevent falls or what we often sluff off as being “clumsy.” This topic recently impacted my family as my step-mother tripped on a slightly raised tile in her outside laundry room, fell, and shattered her hip. She was in the hospital or rehab center for more than a month. Could the fall have been prevented? I’m not sure, but I know that falls are not a normal part of aging.
As I researched more about Falls prevention Month, I learned falls have become an epidemic in America and are now the leading cause of death due to injury for those over 65, and account for 40% of all nursing home admissions. Falls are also the leading cause of injury-related emergency department visits for older adults, the major cause of hip fractures, and responsible for more than half of fatal head injuries. Nearly half of all seniors sustaining a fall DO NOT resume independent living. These statistics are kind of scary – to me, anyway. And as I mentioned earlier, my step-mothers fall not only impacted her but the entire family as quick decisions needed to be made, and family adjustments both during and after her care at the hospital. And I won’t even go into the financial impact and scare. Even after being home for over a month, with a constant watch, she’s only just slowly getting back to her normal activities.
At the heart of Falls Awareness Month, the message is that falls are preventable. Here are some things you can do to help prevent falls:
- Find a balance or exercise program to help build stability and strength and flexibility
- Get your vision and hearing checked every year. Your eyes are your lookout for obstacles.
- Keep your home safe – remove items you can trip over. Keep the house lit as well.
- Install a hand bar in your shower.
My area of expertise is in the balance and exercise program. 10-15 minutes a day can help you significantly. Do some or all or alternative between just a few core and balance exercises. Variety will ensure you are getting enough muscular/stability diversity. You can do these exercises on your own, but it’s a lot more fun when you engage others. For each of the exercises below, there are a number of options where you can regress or progress the exercise. I haven’t gone through all the options but just wanted to present the “simplicity” of how a few exercises and make a big difference.
Hip Bridges. Do at least 2-3 sets of 10 slowly. As you become competent with this, you can increase the stability by raising your knee one leg at a time and then progress to straighten your leg and raise.
Single Leg Balance Reach (or Clock Reach). If you are unsure about this, first try in a seated position, then stand and hold onto something if you need. Once comfortable with that, you can stand on one leg and raise the other leg and hold for 10 seconds or so. You can then progress to a reach. Stand on one leg. With the other leg, hit the 10, 12, 3, and 6 o’clock position. First clockwise and then counter-clockwise. Once confident with that, try it with your eyes closed.
Heel lifts. Stand with both feet flat on the ground. Raise your heels and stand on your tiptoes. Hold for a second and lower back down. Once this is mastered, lean forward a bit to create some instability and then rock back to your center and lower back down.
Toe lifts. Stand with both feet flat on the ground. Raise your toes in the air until your weight is on your heels. Lean slightly forward and then come back to the center. Hold for a second and lower your toes.
Heel to toe walk. You might read this and wonder, “How is walking an exercise to improve balance?” This exercise makes your legs stronger, which enables you to walk without falling. Put your right foot in front of your left foot so that the heel of your right foot touches the top of the toes of your left foot. Move your left foot in front of your right, putting your weight on your heel. Then, shift your weight to your toes. Repeat the step with your left foot. Walk this way for 20 steps.
Balancing Wand. Because I like to keep things fun and interesting. Seniors can perform this balance exercise for seniors while seated. You’ll need a cane or some kind of stick. A broomstick works well for this – just remove the broom’s head before you start. Hold the bottom of the stick so that it’s flat on the palm of your hand. The goal of this exercise is to keep the stick upright for as long as possible. Change hands so that you work on your balance skills on both sides of your body.
Wall push-ups. Stand an arm’s length in front of a wall that doesn’t have any paintings, decorations, windows, or doors. Lean forward slightly and put your palms flat on the wall at the height and width of your shoulders. Keep your feet planted as you slowly bring your body towards the wall. Gently push yourself back so that your arms are straight. Do twenty of these.
Falls don’t have to be a fact of life. Exercising can make you stronger and fitter. You don’t need fancy equipment or the need to get to a gym. Just pull up a chair, use the wall, go outside or to the park. Just start moving.
Lida Johnson is the owner of Head-to-Toe Coaching, where she helps people be their Best Self. She is a Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Nutritionist, Behavior Change Specialist, Certified Group Fitness Instructor, and Lifetime Learner. www.facebook.com/groups/headtotoecoaching or HeadToToeCoaching@gmail.com. Or call 203.260.2880 to see how she can help you.