Falls are a serious danger for older adults. >>Related: 40% of These Result in a Nursing Home Stay.
The CDC says that one in three older Americans will suffer a fall each year with resulting injuries ranging from scrapes and bruises to death. It's a scary statistic for seniors (and for retirement communities where they live).
Many falls are the result of poor balance, an ability which naturally declines as people age. However, recent research out of Australia shows that older adults can actually improve their sense of balance through regular exercise, thus reducing their likelihood of taking a dangerous spill.
Exercise your way to better balance
Exercise has numerous benefits for the age 55 plus population segment. It can help with weight and blood pressure management, slow memory loss, reduce the incidence of heart disease, improve sleep quality, and strengthen bones. This is why many continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs, also known as life plan communities) offer fitness programming. It's a great way to improve the health and wellbeing of their residents and contribute to an overall better quality of life.
Consult with your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen, but if he or she says you are healthy enough, here are the exercises most-recommended to promote strength, balance, and agility for seniors.
The Australian research study found that swimming was one of the best aerobic activities seniors could do to improve their sense of balance. Swimmers must coordinate the movement of their upper and lower body in the water, and the motion strengthens core muscles, thus contributing to better balance and stability on the land. Swimming has the added benefit of being no-impact, so it typically is a suitable activity for those with conditions like arthritis.
It may conjure up images of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but lifting weights is not just for body-builders. There are many benefits to low-weight/high-repetition strength training for seniors, including stronger core muscles that aide in balance. And you don't have to have a gym membership to do these exercises. Simply purchase two small hand weights (or even use water bottles or canned goods), and you can start toning your muscles at home. Here are a few simple weight training exercises recommended for seniors by the National Institutes for Health.
Tai chi is a form of Chinese martial art conceived by Taoist monks in the twelfth century. Today, the most commonly practiced form of tai chi uses slow movements and poses, which can rapidly increase balance. Researchers in Brazil recently discovered that seniors who took tai chi classes for several weeks performed much better on a variety of balance tests than they had prior to taking tai chi. This ancient practice has the added benefits of lowering blood pressure, reducing stress, and increasing mindfulness.
Yoga's benefits for seniors range from stress reduction to management of chronic conditions like high blood pressure and depression, but it can also help them improve their balance. A recent study conducted by researchers in Chicago and San Diego found that male college athletes showed better balance after 10 weeks of yoga classes than a control group of athletes. Senior yogis may experience similar results, and yoga is simple to practice in the comfort of your living room. Many instructional videos are available online, and lots of them are free on sites like YouTube, so why not give it a try?
Take steps to improve your balance
For seniors and the retirement communities where they live, preventing falls is a top priority. Beginning (or continuing) an exercise regimen can go a long way toward improving seniors' sense of balance and reducing the likelihood of a dangerous fall. Check with your CCRC retirement community, senior center, or even local gym to see what exercise activities they offer, and get on the right track to improved balance!