by Bob Poliquin, Managing Editor ~
When I was a young military officer, one of the tired punch lines at Fort Benning jump school was, “It’s not the fall that hurts; it’s the sudden stop.” The same is true for seniors.
In Part 1 of Seniors and Exercise, we discussed the benefits of walking. In Part 2, we discussed stretching. And Part 3 was resistance training, all of which are important aspects of overall fitness for seniors. Something I don’t think we even consider until we get into our 60s and 70s is balance. Some of the most devastating injuries we have seen in Sun City Carolina Lakes (SCCL) are not from falls, but from that sudden stop, which too often results in broken bones, severe facial injuries, or head trauma.
Statistically, most falls happen in and around the house, probably because that’s where we spend most of our time. And, obviously, most falls, whether in the home or away, result from either a loss of balance or from an inability to recover balance quickly enough after stumbling or after tripping over something.
We have also had numerous discussions in SCCL about the dangers of walking or running in the road when, throughout the community, we have sidewalks on both sides of the street. Out of curiosity one day, I asked a man why he was walking in the road. His reason is something I had never considered: He said he is afraid he will fall because he can’t pick his feet up high enough to step over any raised joints in the sidewalk.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Seniors Health says, “Each year, more than one-third of people age 65 or older fall. Falls and fall-related injuries, such as hip fracture, can have a serious impact on an older person’s life. If you fall, it could limit your activities or make it impossible to live independently. Balance exercises, along with certain strength exercises, can help prevent falls by improving your ability to control and maintain your body’s position, whether you are moving or still.”
My grandmother, in her 90s, broke her wrist when she fell changing a ceiling lightbulb. No, it wasn’t a fall from a ladder. She fell from the top of the washing machine. Sometimes we tempt fate. She was fortunate she only broke her wrist.
It’s probably difficult for most seniors to recall when they first began to think about balance. Remaining upright has always been as automatic as breathing. That has changed, however, and now we can only hope to slow down or slightly reverse what aging naturally takes away, but it will take effort on our part.
I said I went to jump school as a young officer. Actually, I was a month away from 35 years old, which seems young to me now. Falling down and getting up again – what jump school is all about – was not nearly as much fun to me as it was to the eighteen-year-olds right out of boot camp. Although I was in exceptional shape for my age, it was obvious that I neither rolled nor bounced as well as these youngsters and was already well into losing that first step.
As I said at the beginning of this series, and the NIH affirms, the greatest benefit to good health is independence. A regular fitness regimen can mean years of added self-determination as well as an opportunity to enjoy friends and family.
The NIH suggests that seniors add these five balance exercises to their fitness regimen; the variety will break up the routine and add a different dimension to your overall health program.