The Center for Disease Controls says that one in three adults age 65 and over fall each year, and that falls are a major health problem that can be prevented. Can exercise play a role in fall prevention, and if so, how?
Trainers at bodyfitz work with older clients to help them prevent falling by not only incorporating specific types of exercises during their training program, but also through education.
“Exercise will strengthen the legs and increase balance and coordination,” said bodyfitz trainer Chantrell Antoine. “In fact, not exercising is the number one cause for the occurrence of falls in older adults. A lack of exercise results in the loss of leg muscle strength, particularly in the quadriceps muscles located in the upper part of the leg, above the knee. A lack of exercise also may result in a decrease in balance and coordination.”
Chantrell also emphasizes balance with her clients through exercises that require this skill to be performed correctly. She said that these types of exercises are especially important in clients who may have suffered a decrease in balance as they aged.
“Good evidence of a challenging balance exercise is when the client is little ‘shaky” while doing the exercise. This means that both large and small muscle groups are being recruited by the brain to help the person stay balanced and upright. Practice makes perfect!” Chantrell stressed.
She designs programs for her clients that may include a wide range of exercises ideal for aiding in fall prevention. Chantrell likes to create an unstable environment by having the client walk across a series of Bosu balls to enhance balance, ankle stability and coordination. She also targets their major leg muscles with strength training exercises such as leg lifts, leg extensions, stationary, reverse, and lateral lunges, as well as deadlifts for the hamstrings and lower back.
“Each program is geared toward the individual ability of the client,” she explained. “I must consider all injuries – knees, hips, lower back, neck and shoulder health of the client when creating their program. For example, a client who is free from injuries should be able to do a compound exercise movement such as walking lunges with a front arm raise. On the other hand, a client with a knee and shoulder injury would have to do stationary wall squats for the legs while using resistance bands on a fixed object to do rows to strengthen the back. Increasing coordination reduces the overall fear of falling.”
Other fall prevention strategies include an annual review by a healthcare provider of all medications, annual vision examinations and, keeping homes safe by making sure that rugs have a non-slip liner under them, installing grab bars next to the toilet and in the tub or shower, and improving lighting in the house with nightlights. Also, footware such as flip-flops should be avoided.
But it is not just the fall that people need to worry about. It is what can happen to the body as a result of the fall.
“Many types of injuries can result from a fall, from hip fractures and head traumas to an early death,” Chantrell said.
Older adults who may be at risk of falling and who would like to begin exercising as a way to lower their risk should seek out a trainer like Chantrell, who specializes in working with aging adults. “I incorporate exercises in their program that will assist them with activities of daily living, such as bending over to put dishes in the dishwasher, bending and digging in the garden, carrying groceries, and transferring their body weight from a chair to a standing position.”