How to Prevent Falls with Exercise

March 17, 2010

The Fear of Falling & Fall Prevention

Reader’s Question – I have fallen a couple of times in the past and am afraid of future falls, is there anything that I can do to prevent falls?

Susan’s Answer – Falls can be devastating and change your life. It can lead to disability and a loss of independence. They are among the most common reasons for medical intervention for the older adult.

Aging by itself doesn’t make you fall, there are also medical factors that can contribute to instability and affect your balance, such as diabetes, heart disease, problems with circulation, thyroid or your nervous systems. Eye problems and medicines that make you dizzy can also be contributors.

There are also physical factors that can lead to falls such as weak and tight muscles as well as poor posture. These can be reversible with a proper exercise and stretching routine.

Many elderly adults have a very real fear of falling and therefore may bias their posture so that if a fall occurs, they will fall forward and break the fall with their arms.

Unfortunately this places a higher strain and load on the hips and knees and shifts the base of support to the front of the feet over the toes. This leads to a gait (your walking stride) to shorten with slower velocity and more double support time (more time on both feet). When you walk like this it looks like you are shuffling your feet.

When strength and balance are improved there is a positive affect on your gait as well as an increase in self-confidence and a decrease in the fear of falling.

Exercises to Help Improve Your Strength and Balance

SIT AND REACH

  • Good to strengthen core muscles and improve balance.


Steps
1. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor

2. Arms straight out in front

3. Reach and lean forward from the hips

4. Return to the starting position

ONE – LEGGED BALANCE

  • Good for balance and leg strength. It is important to make sure that you are standing tall and not letting that hip sway out to the side.

Steps
1. Stand behind a sturdy chair or even at the kitchen counter for support

2. Lift one foot off the floor and keep your posture tall with shoulders back and core tight (think of tightening your stomach muscles)

3. Hold for 10 – 30 seconds then switch legs

4. When you are ready to make it harder try not holding onto anything.

HEEL TO TOE WALK

  • Good for improving balance while walking.

1. Walk in a straight line placing one heel in front of the other toe. Do this initially down a hallway where you can hold onto the walls for balance if needed.

CHAIR STANDS

  • Strengthens the hips, thighs and buttocks, which are important muscles to help you walk efficiently, rise from a chair quickly and climb stairs with better ease.
Position 1 for Chair Stands Exercise Position 2 for Chair Stands Exercise

Steps
1. Stand in front of a sturdy chair with feet slightly more than shoulder width apart and arms stretched out in front of you

2. Slowly to a count of four, lower yourself to a seated position making sure that your knees do not come forward past your toes. Keep your hips, knees and ankles in line with each other ( watch that your knees do not drop in to each other which is common with weaker muscles)

3. Slowly to a count of two rise back up to a standing position. Keep your knees over your ankles and your back straight.

Note: if going all the way down and up is too difficult to start, just go as far as you can with keeping proper alignment. Over time as your muscles become stronger you will be able to go farther and farther until you are able to do the full range of motion. Shorter range is ok to start.

CHAIR LEAN BACKS

  • This exercise is good for increasing your core strength. The key is to make sure that you don’t lose neutral spine (good posture), do not let your back arch as you lean back. The lean happens from the hip joint not the spine
Position 1 for Chair Lean Back Exercise Position 2 for Chair Lean Back Exercise

Steps
1. Sit at the edge of the chair with your back in neutral and a pillow behind you

2. Lean back into the pillow keeping the core contracted

3. Bring yourself back up to the starting position

Other Preventative Measures

Falls and accidents seldom “just happen.” Take a look at your home and surroundings getting rid of any tripping hazards; check the carpets for loose edges or folds. Shoes that have a non-skid sole are also helpful. Read: Fall Prevention in the House and Outside

It is important to take preventative measures, taking care of your health by exercising and getting regular eye exams and physicals.

Here’s to staying on our feet and being balanced.

*As always before beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.

About the Author: Susan Manning is a BCRPA TFL, ACE, ACSM, TWIST certified Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist in BC. She is Dr. Carolyn Anderson’s co-author of It’s Never Too Late To Be Fit, a comprehensive guide for seniors’ fitness.

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