Being able to stay in their homes and remain independent is a daily struggle for many older adults. As we age we tend to lose our flexibility, our connective tissue tightens and we have prolonged reaction times. Problems with vision, including depth perception, all increase the likelihood of falling. When a child falls it may result in a few bumps and bruises.
However, the older we get, the more the ramifications of a fall escalate including being the leading cause of injury deaths in older adults and the most common cause of non-fatal injuries and hospital admissions. According to Val Walkowiak, medical integration coordinator for Loyola Center for Fitness, exercise plays a major role in preventing falls.
“Improving posture and balance helps strengthen weak muscle groups in the back, core, hips and legs. This improves mobility, which limits the fall risks,” Walkowiak said in a news release. “Maintaining upright posture is vital for daily living and function.”
For instance, it can seem that older adults are shuffling instead of walking. This is actually a way to compensate for lack of balance and poor posture. They take shorter strides, have a wider gait and tend to look at the floor to try to avoid tripping.
Working on posture, such as sitting up straight in a chair and holding abs in can strengthen key muscles groups helping to create a more normal walking gait.
Improving static balance, which is the ability to control postural sway while standing, is key to preventing falls.
“We naturally move a lot. When you stand still you actually aren’t still. Your head moves and your body moves with it to keep in line with the head,” Walkowiak said. “As we age it is important to train our brains to quickly activate the right muscles to anticipate and respond to changes in our environment such as stepping up on a curb or into a bath tub.”
Some of the exercises Walkowiak uses to stimulate brain and muscle control are marching in place, heel walks, working on ankle flexibility and quick steps with sudden stops to help increase reaction times.
“So many of the everyday things we take for granted can be more difficult as we age. Cardiovascular endurance, strength, balance and flexibility training are all needed to help a person stay independent. But balance, staying away from falls, seems to be what matters most to seniors,” Walkowiak said.