Fall Prevention for Older Adults

lisa-snow-2

by Lisa Snow

As a personal trainer with many clients in their 70s and 80s, I am always amazed to see the class formats most gyms choose to offer older adults.  The typical gym or Y offers water aerobics, which is fantastic for older people.  But their classes outside the pool, in the gym itself, are usually seated classes, meaning students sit in folding chairs for the whole hour.  I’ve never understood the logic of this.  Having chairs available for people who need them is good.  Doing some seated exercises is good.  But you can’t work on balance in a seated class!

For most people in their 70s and 80s, the number one goal of a fitness program is fall prevention.  Maintaining strength, building endurance, and losing weight are all beneficial in the long run.  But what good does it do someone to lose weight, neglect to work on balance, and have a fall?  If you put balance first, you can reach all your other goals eventually.  Here are five easy steps you can take to improve your balance:

1) If you’re already in a seated group fitness class, let your instructor know you want to try standing for 1 or 2 of the exercises.  Ask which exercises they think would be easiest to do standing, and start with those.

2) Whenever you have wasted time—waiting in line at a store, or sitting on hold on the phone at home—practice balancing on one foot.  Be sure to stand next to a countertop you can grab onto if you truly need to.  If you’re using a cane or walker and don’t feel ready for the one foot balance, try using that down time to learn to let go of the handles for a few seconds at a time.

3) Try a yoga or tai chi class.  So many older adults are afraid to try yoga because it seems too different, too “out there,” but older people are the one group that would benefit the most from yoga!  There’s also a big misconception that yoga is just stretching.  While yoga does help with flexibility, it also helps balance.

4) If you always hold onto the railing when you go up or down stairs, try just touching the railing with one finger instead of gripping it with your whole hand.  With practice, you may soon be able to let go of the railing entirely.

5) If you’re still strong enough to stand up from the floor but it’s a challenge, try to add one “rep” daily.  Let’s say today it’s hard to get up from the floor once.  It doesn’t hurt, it’s just tiring.  Tomorrow, practice getting up from the floor once in the morning, and once at night (2 repetitions or “reps” hours apart).  The third day, try getting down to the floor, standing up, going back to the floor, and standing up again.  (2 reps, one right after the other.)  The fourth day, try getting to the floor and standing back up 3 times.  Some days you may be too tired to add another rep, but you can still repeat what you did the day before.  Keep going for several weeks until you can do 15 reps continuously.  Don’t worry about perfect technique.  You can always learn better ways to stand up from the floor from a personal trainer or a group fitness class later on.  For right now, you just need to know for a fact that you could stand up from the floor if you had to, and that you can trust your body.

As a personal trainer with many clients in their 70s and 80s, I am always amazed to see the class formats most gyms choose to offer older adults.  The typical gym or Y offers water aerobics, which is fantastic for older people.  But their classes outside the pool, in the gym itself, are usually seated classes, meaning students sit in folding chairs for the whole hour.  I’ve never understood the logic of this.  Having chairs available for people who need them is good.  Doing some seated exercises is good.  But you can’t work on balance in a seated class!

For most people in their 70s and 80s, the number one goal of a fitness program is fall prevention.  Maintaining strength, building endurance, and losing weight are all beneficial in the long run.  But what good does it do someone to lose weight, neglect to work on balance, and have a fall?  If you put balance first, you can reach all your other goals eventually.  Here are five easy steps you can take to improve your balance:

1) If you’re already in a seated group fitness class, let your instructor know you want to try standing for 1 or 2 of the exercises.  Ask which exercises they think would be easiest to do standing, and start with those.

2) Whenever you have wasted time—waiting in line at a store, or sitting on hold on the phone at home—practice balancing on one foot.  Be sure to stand next to a countertop you can grab onto if you truly need to.  If you’re using a cane or walker and don’t feel ready for the one foot balance, try using that down time to learn to let go of the handles for a few seconds at a time.

3) Try a yoga or tai chi class.  So many older adults are afraid to try yoga because it seems too different, too “out there,” but older people are the one group that would benefit the most from yoga!  There’s also a big misconception that yoga is just stretching.  While yoga does help with flexibility, it also helps balance.

4) If you always hold onto the railing when you go up or down stairs, try just touching the railing with one finger instead of gripping it with your whole hand.  With practice, you may soon be able to let go of the railing entirely.

5) If you’re still strong enough to stand up from the floor but it’s a challenge, try to add one “rep” daily.  Let’s say today it’s hard to get up from the floor once.  It doesn’t hurt, it’s just tiring.  Tomorrow, practice getting up from the floor once in the morning, and once at night (2 repetitions or “reps” hours apart).  The third day, try getting down to the floor, standing up, going back to the floor, and standing up again.  (2 reps, one right after the other.)  The fourth day, try getting to the floor and standing back up 3 times.  Some days you may be too tired to add another rep, but you can still repeat what you did the day before.  Keep going for several weeks until you can do 15 reps continuously.  Don’t worry about perfect technique.  You can always learn better ways to stand up from the floor from a personal trainer or a group fitness class later on.  For right now, you just need to know for a fact that you could stand up from the floor if you had to, and that you can trust your body.

_____________________________________________________________

You may also be interested in these other articles by Lisa Snow:

Top 6 Questions for Choosing the Best Weight Loss Plan for YOU

This St. Patrick’s Day, Go Green For Real

3 Tips for Exercising with Multiple Sclerosis

Fitness for People with Parkinson’s

Customized Exercises for People with Back Pain

What Should People Look for When Hiring a Personal Trainer?

How do trainers know what program is right for their clients?

Who Benefits the Most from a Personal Trainer?

Motivate Yourself to Better Health

Three Dimensional Fitness