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.
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 nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions, according to Loyola University Health System, Chicago. Val Walkowiak, medical integration coordinator for Loyola Center for Fitness, Chicago, said exercise plays a major role in preventing falls.
“Improving posture and balance helps strengthen weak muscle groups in the back, core, hips, and legs," said Walkowiak, in a statement. "This improves mobility, which limits the fall risks. 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 compensation 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. “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,” said Walkowiak.
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,” said Walkowiak.
Walkowiak leads a class specifically aimed at meeting the exercising needs of older adults in a land-based setting. The class doesn’t require getting up and down off the floor. Strength training is done with wrist and ankle weights so people with arthritis don’t have to use handheld weights. Most exercises are done in a chair or standing up.
Many seniors are drawn to aquatic classes because of arthritis or lack of flexibility, which Walkowaik said is great. Still, she encourages seniors to get out of the water. “We don’t live in water. It is important for seniors to perform exercises on land to increase bone density, help improve balance, and simulate the functional movements we perform each day during our daily tasks,” she said.
Exercising is not only good for the body it stimulates the mind and improves hand and eye coordination.
[Source: Loyola University Health System]