Falls are the number one cause of injury and deaths resulting from injury for older adults in America today. In fact, nearly 1 in 4 Americans over the age of 65 suffer a fall each and every year, and 50% will fall again in the same year! Those are some pretty significant findings.
There are a host of products and services being pitched to reduce the risk of falling and mitigate the severity of injuries resulting from falls. You see advertisements for them on TV, online and in your mailbox - everything from walk-in tubs to chair lifts, walkers and medical alerts. While all are important, exercise remains one of the easiest, cheapest and most effective ways to prevent falls from happening in the first place.
What Causes Seniors To Fall?
Part of fall prevention is learning what causes seniors to fall. Some of the reasons are biological, medical or environmental. Many falls are caused by a dangerous confluence of factors. For example, an older adult with mobility issues, is on medication that makes her dizzy and slips while stepping over the lip of the bathtub.
Understanding the leading causes of falling will help you identify your biggest risks and what you can do to mitigate them.
- Lack of strength: As we age, we lose muscle mass and strength. Losing our strength makes us less able to recover from otherwise common trips, slips and stumbles, resulting in more serious falls.
- Medications: Many medications cause drowsiness, dizziness or confusion. This is especially true when prescribed new medications or combining medications for the first time.
- Vision: Age is not kind to our eyesight. Common vision related illnesses such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataract or dry eye all inhibit our vision and increase our chances of tripping over what we can't see.
- Environmental hazards: There are tripping, slipping and lighting hazards throughout your house. From slippery bathtub floors and low toilet seats to floppy slippers and area rugs with raise lips, households can be like minefields for seniors.
Part of any serious fall prevention plan should include tackling each of the above risks. Get your eyes checked 1-2 times a year. Discuss all your medications with your doctor at each visit. Make your home easier to navigate. But don't forget to tackle your fitness. It requires a little more sustained effort, but consistent exercise will repay you in spades!
The 5 Best Exercises For Fall Prevention
While all exercising is good, not all exercises are best for preventing falls. Here's a list of the most recommended exercises that will help you improve your strength, balance and agility. You can do each in your own home and doing them all will improve your chances of avoiding a fall and sustaining serious injury.
- Heel Raises
Stand behind a chair. Place both hands on the back of the chair for balance. Place your feet hip width apart. Raise your heels off the ground, so your weight is on your toes. Do 10 repetitions.
Frequency: 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions. Hold weight in your hands, if it gets too easy.
Benefits: Strengthen the lower legs, feet and toes. Improves walking ability, especially on uneven terrain and balance.
- Standing Side Leg Lift
Stand behind a chair. Place both hands on the back of the chair. Lift one leg to the side, about 6 inches off the floor. Hold that position for 2-5 seconds.
Frequency: 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions for each leg. Add weights, or bands to your legs, if it becomes too easy.
Benefits: Strengthens hip, thighs and buttocks.
- Standing Hamstring Curls
Stand behind a chair. Place both hands on the back of the chair. Lift your lower leg up, so your heel touches your buttocks. Hold for 2-5 seconds. Slowly lower your foot back to the floor.
Frequency: 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions for each leg. Try removing hands to balance on one leg to increase difficulty.
Benefits: Improves balance, stability and leg strength.
Sit on a chair. Feet about shoulder width apart. Place both hands in front of you, so your arms are parallel to each other and the floor. Now stand up, using only your legs to propel you to a standing position. Repeat 10 times.
Frequency: 2 sets of 5-10 repetitions.
Benefits: Best exercise to increase upper and lower leg strength. Reduces risk of falling getting up and down from chairs, sofas and toilets.
- The Plank
Lie down on the floor, stomach down. Place your toes on the floor. Now place your elbows and forearms on the floor. Your legs and back should form a straight line, on a descending angle from head to foot. Hold for as long as you can.
Frequency: 2 sets.
Benefits: Fantastic exercise to increase strength of your core, abdomen, legs and shoulders.
- Heel Raises
The Final Note on The Best Exercises for Fall Prevention
Aside from the specific exercises outlined above, there are plenty of activities you can also do that will help with your overall strength, balance, power and physical fitness. Walking 30 minutes a day, at a nice pace is one of the best exercises to keep your legs strong and gait healthy. You can also try your hand at Tai Chi, Yoga, stair climbing and bicycling.
Of course, no matter which exercises you choose, remember to always discuss your program and conditioning with your doctor.