Weekly Wellness: Balancing Exercises equals Smart Decisions

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COLUMBIA - Did you know that every 13 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall? And every 20 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall? It's true. Falling.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that:

  • One-third of Americans aged 65+ falls each year.
  • Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.
  • Falls result in more than 2.5 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 734,000 hospitalizations and more than 21,700 deaths.

So, why is it that our elderly population can be so prone to falls? A summary of twelve different studies on the subject revealed that falls are caused by accidents within their environment, gait or balance disorder, dizziness (vertigo), confusion, visual problems, drugs/medication compliance.

And you might be surprised to learn that 55% of all falls take place at their home. Mostly inside their home and outside near their homes (on the sidewalk or stairs, in the yard, getting the mail, etc).

Beyond being painful, falls can be really expensive. In 2013, the total cost of fall injuries was $34 billion. And this number is expected to increase every year as the population ages. Estimates are expected to reach $67.7 billion by 2000.

Falls, with or without injury, also carry a heavy quality of life impact. A growing number of older adults fear falling and, as a result, limit their activities and social engagements. This can result in further physical decline, depression, social isolation, and feelings of helplessness.

The National Institutes of Health suggest that physical activity (inclusive of endurance, strength, balance and flexibility exercises) help with fall prevention. Balance exercises, specifically, (along with strength exercises), can help prevent falls by improving the ability to control and maintain position, while moving or still.

We are going to review five balance exercises that you can try at home. They include:

  • Standing on one foot
  • Walking heel to toe
  • Balance walk
  • Back leg raises
  • Side leg raises

Before you do any exercises, talk with your physician. It's also helpful to have a sturdy chair, person or railing nearby if you feel at all unsteady.

Standing on one foot:

  • Stand on one foot behind a sturdy chair, holding on for balance.
  • Hold position for up to 10 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times with other leg.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 more times with each leg.

Walking heel to toe:

  • Position the heel of one foot just in front of the toes of the other foot. Your heel and toes should touch or almost touch.
  • Choose a spot ahead of you and focus on it to keep you steady as you walk.
  • Take a step. Put your heel just in front of the toe of your other foot.
  • Repeat for 20 steps.

Balance walk:

  • Raise arms to sides, shoulder height.
  • Choose a spot ahead of you and focus on it to keep you steady as you walk.
  • Walk in a straight line with one foot in front of the other.
  • As you walk, lift your back leg. Pause for 1 second before stepping forward.
  • Repeat for 20 steps, alternating legs.

Back leg raises:

  • Stand behind a sturdy chair, holding on for balance. Breathe in slowly.
  • Breathes out and slowly lift one leg straight back without bending your knee or pointing your toes. Try not to lean forward. The leg you are standing on should be slightly bent.
  • Hold position for one second.
  • Breathe in as you slowly lower your leg.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times with other leg.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 more times with each leg.

Side leg raises:

  • Stand behind a sturdy chair with feet slightly apart, holding on for balance. Breathe in slowly.
  • Breathe out and slowly lift one leg out to the side. keep your back straight and your toes facing forward. The leg you are standing on should be slightly bent.
  • Hold position for one second.
  • Breathe in as you slowly lower your leg.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times with other leg.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times with each leg.

You can perform these exercises a few times each week but if you're new to exercise, allow your body to rest a day between performing. Meaning: don't do these two days in a row.

Your balance is very important. Especially as we age. Take care of yourself.

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