Learn about Exercise & Fall Prevention
Risk Factors for Falling
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Why is your risk of falling, and fall-related injuries, greater as you age? While aging is a natural process, the steps you can take to help avoid or prevent falling as you get older are simple to implement. Your risk of falls increases as you get older because of many factors. One factor, in fact, the greatest risk factor for falling, is your age. If you are over the age of 65, your risk of experiencing a fall is 33%. Okay, but, why do one-third of Americans over the age of 65 falls? As you age your senses, physical strength and stability, physical ability and confidence related to walking, climbing, and stepping up-and-over structures, including stairs, become impaired. These impairments occur largely because of muscle atrophy and loss in muscle strength. The loss of muscular strength results in instability of large joints including your hips, knees, and ankles. When you lose strength and stability, activities of daily living and physical activity become much harder to perform, therefore when you do perform tasks as I’ve mentioned above your risk for falling and tripping is much higher.
In addition to muscular atrophy, or muscle weakness, other physical factors contribute to greater risks for falling. These factors include vision impairment, reduced proprioception, or awareness of your limbs in relation to the mid-line of your body, slowed physical reflex, and decline in mental acuity. Illness and disorders can play a role in your increased risks for falling as well. Hypotension, physical impairment related to diabetes and foot injury, dehydration, and many medications, as a result of side-effects, can contribute to additional risk factors for falling. When considering these, and other, risk factors for falling it is important to consider all biological, genetic, or medical influences, psychological or mental state, and social or environmental factors together to develop a comprehensive fall prevention strategy.
It is estimated that the number of fall deaths among people 65 and older is 400% greater than fall deaths among people of all other age groups. This means that fall prevention is vital to the quality of life and health of people as we age, especially if you are over 65 years of age. Now that we understand more about increased risk factors associated with falling as you age, let’s move forward to prevention. Fall prevention and fall prevention strategy is the leading position you can take to avoid preventable injury and falling.
Fall Prevention Steps
If you have fallen, you know, from personal experience, what it is like to work your way through injuries suffered from a fall, along with many associated challenges including loss of self-esteem, loss of confidence when walking or climbing stairs, and stepping over objects, and perhaps, to a large extent, fear and a level of avoidance associated with activities of daily living that you did not fear prior to falling. Fear is a powerful motivator. It can paralyze you in the sense that you may avoid doing things that can help you avoid or prevent another fall.
There are many preventative measures and steps you can take to reduce your risk of falling. Related to the environment, your home is where you presumably spend most of your time, therefore, your home should be made free of dangerous zones and walking pathways that are obstructed in any way. Cords from home phones, small appliances, such as fans, and space heaters, and lamps can contribute to trip and fall risks. Cords should always be safely positioned out of walkways and areas in which you normally pass or walkthrough. Along these lines, rugs, plants, shoes, and other items commonly found on floor surfaces should always be positioned in a secure manner, such as in the case wherein rugs are laid over rubber mats to keep them slip-free, and shoes, plants, bathroom scales, and other items commonly found on floor surfaces in your home are securely stored so that you do not trip over them. Away from floors to stairs, bathrooms, specifically related to wall safety attachments, if you do not have secure railings or handles you may grasp during climbing in and out of a tub, for example, or securely hold while climbing stairs, these wall-mounted safety railings or handles can serve as prevention tools as well. In bathrooms and kitchens, wet areas pose a significant risk for slip-and-fall injuries. Be aware of your surroundings and collect information from as many sources as possible to help you maintain a home that is organized to present much lower risks for falling and slipping. Remember, the result of falling is often serious injury or worse. As I mentioned above, if you are over 65 your risk for death as a result of falling is 4 times that of the same mortality rates compared to people of other age groups. In fact, a comprehensive fall prevention strategy can save your life.
Exercise & Fall Prevention
All of these things mentioned above, and others, can contribute more to the challenge of falling than solutions. One of the most vital solutions for fall prevention is exercise. At any age, exercise is key for optimal health and fitness. Exercise strengthens all the systems of your body including your cardiovascular and circulatory systems, your bone and skeletal system, and, of course, your muscles. Exercise, along with healthy eating, improves bone mineral density, mental acuity, muscular strength and endurance, balance and coordination, and stability of major joints responsible for stabilizing movement, including walking, climbing stairs, and stepping over things. The guidelines for exercise most beneficial for fall prevention offered by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department suggest at least 90 minutes of moderately intense aerobic physical activities including full-body, weight-bearing exercise or activities like fast-paced walking, dancing, swimming, aqua-aerobics or other physical activities you might enjoy — as long as you stay within your recommended target heart rate and exclude activities that might interfere with medications, or preexisting bone or joint problems. Your doctor can best recommend activities that can be most beneficial for you. With the suggestion of your doctor, resistance exercise can help you to build and maintain muscle mass and bone density. Your goal should be to maintain a more ambitious goal of walking or exercising 5 hours a week, as you become more fit, you may simply adjust the intensity, duration, and frequency of your exercise as long as the benefits continue to outweigh any risks, as outlined by your doctor, associated with increased intensity in exercise. It would be a good idea to speak with an exercise professional about more detailed exercise recommendations that meet your specific limitations, concerns, and current physical fitness level. With the right frame of mind, a positive attitude, and help from people you know and trust, you can build a fall prevention program that will suit your needs and improve your quality of life — for the rest of your life.
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