A Skeleton-Saving Workout

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To prevent falls, exercise is called for. What is needed is regular strength and balance training.

For older adults, falling down is a Big Deal. It’s a biggest risk factor for a fracture, which–particularly when it’s in the hip–can be exceedingly dangerous. The one-year mortality rate after a hip fracture is a high as 25 percent. So, argue researchers in a recent analysis published in the medical journal BMJ, preventing deadly breaks should include preventing falls, not just treating osteoporosis with drugs.

Falls happen for many reasons, and studies have suggested that cutting back on medications that may cause dizziness, supplementing with vitamin D and calcium (to build stronger bones), and making sure the home is safe all have their roles to play. But once you’ve tackled the tripping hazards and railing-less staircases, there’s no getting around it-exercise is called for, a program of regular strength and balance training as well as a cardiovascular routine to build endurance. beginners may feel most comfortable starting with a group class or signing on with an instructor or trainer who has experience or certification in working with older folks. For the do-it-yourselfers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a general strength-training program for older adults on its website (cdc.gov/ncdphp/dnpa/physical/growing-stronger/exercises/index.htm). It’s comprehensive, but the sheer number of exercises may seem daunting to newbies, since research suggests strength training should be done three times a week to get the fall-prevention benefits.

You may want to start out by focusing on a smaller set of key exercises that work the lower body and are thus aimed specifically at preventing falls. One can be done at the kitchen sink: Rise on your toes, then lower your heels to the ground, and then rock back on your heels and lift your toes before lowering again. Another is to sit down, then lift and straighten alternating legs. Finally, try easing into and out of a sitting position without using your hands. Most people could benefit from ankle or leg weights to increase the resistance.

As for balance, you can begin with something as simple as standing on booth feet and focusing on a point on the wall, trying not to move your body to keep steady. That can progress to doing the same thing for 30 seconds with closed eyes, then balancing on one foot for 30 seconds, first with eyes open, then with them closed. “you’re getting the body to be aware of itself in space”. The standard prescription for health: working up to 30 minutes of brisk walking most days a week. If people have been ill for some period of time, you might have decreased your activity level without even realizing it.

Taking up exercise doesn’t mean you should ignore other precautions; sometimes a simple change in footwear or making sure electrical cords are out of the way can cut the odds of falling. And in some cases, drugs ma be appropriate. “Exercise isn’t going to solve the problem completely.” But it goes a long way and offers health benefits much more wide ranging than just preventing fractures.


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