As our population ages and people live longer, the number of older Americans who fall and suffer serious, even fatal, injuries is soaring, according to the New York Times. Retirement communities are trying to balance safety with their residents’ desire to live as they choose.
Sometimes, medication side effects for diseases and conditions most common to aging (stroke, arthritis, dementia, Parkinson’s disease) can actually increase the risk of falling, on top of the inherent risk that already exists by having the condition.
The dangers are real. The number of people over 65 who died after a fall reached nearly 24,000 in 2012 — almost double the number 10 years earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As an added factor, many older adults are extremely vulnerable to falling simply because they don’t (or won’t) recognize signs of their gradual deterioration as they age, according to the NYT article. Their failure to address the issue greatly increases risk.
What can you do to prevent falling?
Looking for answers, we interviewed Exercise Physiologist and Certified Health Coach Rhonda Zonoozi, BS, CHWC, HFS, from the Sun Health Center For Health & Wellbeing in Surprise, AZ.
She suggested the following three small changes to your daily routine to improve your balance. Taking just five minutes or less, they can make a BIG difference!
Not sure if you need balance exercises? Try them out.
If you have concerns about your balance, please consult your healthcare provider before trying any exercises.
If you are unsteady, then implementing strengthening exercises are also a good idea. Prevention is FAR better than falling!
1. ONE-LEGGED STANDING. As demonstrated in the above photo of Rhonda with her client, Norma Stainaker, practice standing on one leg at a time for up to thirty seconds. Start by holding on to sturdy furniture or a counter with both hands, graduating to one hand, one finger, then no hands as your balance improves. When you are strong enough to start standing on one leg without holding anything, it’s a good idea to remain close to your stabilizer, just in case you falter.
This can be repeated daily. Doing the one-legged standing exercise while alternating legs takes just one minute of your day…. It doesn’t get much faster than that!
Pressed for time? Try doing it while you brush your teeth or while you’re standing in line at the grocery store checkout.
As you become more skilled at one-legged stands, you can try the advanced move of lifting your straightened leg out to the side, or in front of you, working up to ten repetitions per leg.
2. ONE-LEGGED STANDING WITH YOUR EYES CLOSED. Once you’ve mastered the above exercise without wobbling, do the same thing with your eyes closed. Try to sustain the one-legged stand for thirty seconds on each leg, this time with your eyes closed to make balancing a little more difficult.
Don’t forget to hold on with both hands the first time you try it, reducing your dependence on a stabilizer as you get stronger and more confident.
If you can’t hold the pose for thirty seconds with your eyes closed, build up to it over time through daily practice.
3. TANDEM STANDING. Similar to the one-legged stands, this exercise involves holding on to something for stability – but instead of standing on one leg, you line up your feet heel-to-toe. It might sound easy, but this can be very challenging to do without wobbling!
Stand next to a chair, counter or waist-high piece of furniture and hold on to it with one hand. Line up your feet with the heel of the foot in front touching the toe of the foot directly behind it. Stand nice and tall, feet straight, with weight equally balanced between both legs.
Do this for up to thirty seconds, then reverse your feet so you are leading with the opposite leg.
Once you can hold the pose for thirty seconds each way without wobbling, try the same exercise without holding on – arms held straight out and horizontal to the floor.
You can also try heel-to-toe walking down a hallway as an advanced exercise.
Community Education Classes That Help Balance
We have several classes at the Center For Health & Wellbeing that strengthen balance. Our Tai Chi and Yogalates classes are fantastic, plus we offer classes focused on fall prevention. Check our website or the latest issue of LiveWell magazine for details!