Every 19 minutes in the U.S., an older adult dies from a fall, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Every 11 seconds, meanwhile, a senior receives emergency room treatment due to a fall. All in all, a full third of Americans aged 65 and older fall every year. Given these numbers, it's hardly a surprise that falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries among seniors. However, one strategy can be particularly effective in preventing seniors from becoming statistics, balance training.
Let's take a closer look at this vital form of physical activity for seniors, along with highlighting a few simple exercises aimed at promoting improved balance and body strength.
About Balance Training for Seniors
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) defines balance as “the ability to maintain the body's position over its base of support within stability limits, both statically and dynamically.” How important is balance? It is “essential for all human movement and movement and is necessary for all activities of daily living,” according to ACE.
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Combined with flexibility, strength, and endurance, balance is a critical part of supporting physical activity in seniors. Unfortunately, seniors are particularly susceptible to changes in balance due to age-related physical changes.
The Benefits of Balance Training
Unfortunately, the impact of falls among older adults can be significant. In addition to the likelihood of a slower healing process along with the chance that complete healing may not occur, fall-related injuries can quickly become a vicious cycle: When seniors fall, they often develop a fear of falling which can lead them to become sedentary. The more sedentary they become, the weaker their bones and muscles become. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of future falls and injuries, and may ultimately impede an individual's ability to live independently.
Falls, fall-related injuries, and the fear of falling can also affect mental health in seniors leading to everything from lack of confidence and decreased opportunities for socialization to isolation and depression.
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Balance Training 101
NIHSeniorHealth proposes five exercises designed to simultaneously improve balance and body strength in seniors. These include: alternating standing on one foot; heel-to-toe walking; balance walking; back leg raises; and side leg raises.
The best thing about these and other balance exercises? They can be done in nearly any environment at any time. While some seniors may need extra help balancing, a sturdy chair or wall to hold onto will do. With practice many seniors will progress to being able to modify these balance exercises in order to perform them with no hands or even with their eyes closed.
One additional thing for caregivers and family members to keep in mind? Physical movements which may seem easy to you may be intimidating or difficult for aging loved ones. Patience and support are critical to helping seniors overcome these obstacles in order to incorporate balance training into their health and wellness regimens. Also, remember to speak with your aging loved one's physician before introducing any new exercise program.
There's no better time to shine the spotlight on the importance of balance training as an invaluable fall prevention strategy than with the approach of Falls Prevention Awareness Day — celebrated each year on the first day of autumn. Why not use this observation to help a senior in your life decrease his/her fall risk while increasing in mobility through beneficial balance training?