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Fall-Proofing Your Body

How's your balance?
How's your balance?

As we age, a simple fall can turn deadly. Last week I shared tips on how to fall-proof your home. This week I'd like to focus on you. Things you should check on and what you can do to grow steadier on your feet. This advice is primarily for anyone aged 40 years or older.

For some people, the first time they realize there's a problem is after it's already getting serious. If you find yourself holding onto walls or furniture as you walk through the house, you may have a problem. The same is true if you have trouble getting out of a chair or stepping into a tub. There are several issues you need to consider.

Start with a visit to your doctor. Tell them about any conditions you're experiencing like dizziness, joint pains, shortness of breath or numbness in your feet or hands. An ear infection can throw off balance and arthritis can slow down reflexes. Have your physician go through any underlying health conditions that you need to treat.

You might be asked to take a walking test. The doctor can then evaluate how you move to see if there are issues that can be dealt with through physical therapy. As an interim step, you might need to use a cane or walker until you get more steady. Make sure your doctor shows you how to properly use any aids that are prescribed.

Give your doctor a list of all the over-the-counter prescription medications and supplements you're taking. You should review the side effects and see if any of the problems you're experiencing are on the list. In some cases, you might be able to reduce, switch or eliminate drugs that are hurting more than helping.

Get an eye exam. Sometimes problems happen simply because we can't see what's going on. Eyesight changes over time. Those glasses that worked three years ago may be all wrong for you now.

Make sure you're getting enough sleep. People who sleep an average of 5-7 hours a night are 40% more likely to fall than someone who sleeps longer. Just getting enough shut-eye can dramatically improve balance and stability.

Find out if you're getting enough sleep here.

Once you've learned the medical issues, it's time to see what you're doing for yourself.

Start some form of cardio exercise. Walking just 30 minutes a day is simple. You can also try dance classes, swimming, riding a bike, Pilates or tai chi. To improve balance, you might also consider active forms of yoga or martial arts.

Work on strength-building exercises at least two to three times a week. As we age, our muscles naturally deteriorate and we grow weaker. Only a regular program of strength training can fight that muscle loss. Weight-bearing exercises also have the added benefit of building stronger bones.

Some people avoid physical activity as they age because they're afraid it might cause them to fall. But the less you exercise, the quicker your muscles deteriorate and the more unsteady you become. Ask your doctor for a prescription to a physical therapist or certified trainer that can work with you to build a safe program.

Here are three simple things you can do at home.

Strengthen your legs with squats. Start with your feet hip-width apart. Then bend your knees, put your arms straight out and keep your stomach tight. Keep going down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, or as close as you can get. Then squeeze your glutes and stand back up.

If you're too unsteady for that move, try a wall squat. Lean with your back against the wall. Slide down until you're in a squat position, then stand back up again. Work your way up to doing three sets of 10. Take a one or two-minute break between each set.

Learn more about how to properly do squats here: Squats Build Better Butts

Work on your balance by using a field sobriety test police give. Walk by putting the heel of your forward foot against the toe of your rear foot. Keep walking, heel to toe for 20 steps, in as straight a line as you can. Then reverse it, toe to heel, returning for 20 steps.

Stand on one leg at a time, up to 30 seconds if you can. Change legs and repeat. Make sure you're in a position to catch yourself if you become unsteady. Repeat twice a day.

Reducing falls can save thousands of lives a year. A regular exercise program can reduce falls that cause serious injury by 43% and broken bones by 61%. It's up to you to get started.

Click Here for Fall-Proofing Your HOME.

Study on the Effect of Fall Prevention Exercise Programs: Click on the title to download a PDF copy of the study.

The effect of fall prevention exercise programmes on fall induced injuries in community dwelling older adults: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials

Fabienne El-Khoury PhD candidate in epidemiology 1 2, Bernard Cassou professor of public health and geriatrician3 4, Marie-Aline Charles senior researcher in epidemiology 1 2, Patricia Dargent-Molina senior researcher in epidemiology 1 2

1Univ Paris-Sud, UMRS 1018, F-94807, Villejuif, France; 2 Inserm, Centre for research in Epidemiology and Population Health (CESP), U1018, F-94807, Villejuif, France; 3Univ Versailles St-Quentin, EA 25-06, Laboratoire Santé-Environnement-Vieillissement, F-78035, Versailles, France; 4AP-HP, Hôpital Sainte Périne, Centre de gérontologie, F-75016, Paris, France

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.

Updated 1/18/2021