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Reduce your fall risk: Exercise

Studies show the majority of hospitalizations of seniors above age 65 are due to preventable falls. We know that many factors work together to increase your risk of falls, including natural changes that occur as we get older. These changes are:

• Decreased maximal heart rate with activity

• Increased blood pressure at rest and with exercise

• Slower reaction time

• Decreased muscle strength

• Decreased bone mass

• Decreased flexibility

• Higher percentage of body fat

• Longer recovery times after activity

Over time, these changes can make your balance worse and thus increase your risk for falls. Everyday activities may seem to take more energy. These changes also increase your risk for other diseases.

The good news is all of these changes can be improved or reversed with a regular exercise program.

There are a variety of exercise programs available to everyone, found in magazines, books, on the Internet, and on television. Always check with your primary care provider before beginning a new exercise program. Make sure that you identify the following key components when selecting the best falls-prevention exercise program for you or a loved one.

Warm up

• 5 to 10 minutes of light activity that prepares the body for exercise

• Gradually increases heart rate and blood flow

Aerobic training

• Prolonged movement which improves cardio-respiratory fitness

• Decreases risk or prevents many chronic diseases

Resisted exercise

• Exercise targeted at increasing muscle strength

• Increases bone mass which decreases osteoporosis risk

• Decreases body fat which leads to weight loss

Stretching

• Slow movements that elongate muscles

• Decreases the chance of injury

• Improves posture

Cool down

• 5 to 10 minutes of light activity to assist in returning body to rest

• Reduces risk of muscle soreness

• Reduces the risk of abnormal heart rate and low post-exercise blood pressure

One program which addresses all of the above components is the Stay Active and Independent for Life (SAIL) programs, offered at your local senior centers.

Your primary care provider may choose to refer you to physical therapy to assist with implementation of an appropriate exercise program if you are experiencing any of the following:

• Dizziness or vertigo, a false sense of moving or spinning

• Dizziness is sometimes caused by conditions that disrupt or confuse the signals your brain receives from one or more of your sensory systems, including your:

• Eyes, which help you determine where your body is in space and how it’s moving

• Sensory nerves, which send messages to your brain about body movements and send messages to your brain about body movements and positions

• Inner ear, which houses sensors that help detect gravity and back-and-forth motion

• A recent muscle, bone and/or joint injury

• After a prolonged illness and/or prolonged bed rest

Next month, we will address memory improvement techniques as a method of fall prevention.

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