The Benefits of Balance Classes for Seniors
When you were a small child, falling down was part of the reality of learning about your world and your body. If you’re an athlete, you may have fallen hundreds of times on the soccer pitch, the gridiron or the baseball field. But as you get older your attitude toward falling changes — it’s not as easy to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going. Of course, falling can pose a risk at any age, but for older adults, falling can be a serious health concern. Millions of people age 65 and older fall every year and 20% of these falls result in severe injuries, such as broken bones or head injury. Fortunately, seniors can lower their risk of falling. Regular exercise, including balance exercises for seniors, can be an important part of fall prevention.
Why Do Seniors Fall?
For decades you’ve been walking and balancing without even thinking about it, so why does falling become more common with age? It turns out that certain health conditions and age-related changes in your body can increase the likelihood of falls. Risk factors for falls include:
- Balance issues. Changes in your inner ear can cause dizziness that results in loss of balance.
- Positional low blood pressure. As you age, your body can become less efficient at pumping blood, so sudden changes in body position — such as standing up quickly — can cause a temporary but rapid drop in blood pressure that affects balance.
- Vision changes. A decline in depth perception and sensitivity to contrast can distort your vision, making falls more likely.
- Medications. Dizziness can be a side effect of certain medications.
- Loss of strength. Muscle mass naturally diminishes as you get older — especially if you’re physically inactive — which can lead to weakness and decreased mobility, increasing the risk of falls.
- Slower reflexes. Coordination declines and reflexes slow as you get older, making it more difficult to react quickly to prevent falling.
- Decreased flexibility. Another natural side effect of the aging process, decreased flexibility can limit your range of motion, reducing nimbleness and making falls more likely.
Take Steps to Prevent Falls
Numerous studies show that physical activity can decrease the risk of falls. In one study, participants in a regular exercise program were 40% less likely to fall and 33% less likely to suffer an injury if they did fall. That’s because moving your body on a regular basis builds muscle, strengthens bones, and improves reaction time and coordination – all of which can lower the risk of falls and reduce the likelihood that a fall will cause serious injuries. Any activity that supports stamina, strength and flexibility can be beneficial. Try walking, aquatic fitness or movement practices like yoga or tai chi.
Balance Training for Seniors
Improving balance — the ability to control your body’s position while you’re still or in motion — is central to fall prevention. Although better balance can be a byproduct of any exercise program, it can be helpful to take a more targeted approach with simple balance exercises for seniors like these:
Stand with your feet together and your hands at your sides. Bend one knee slightly to lift one foot a few inches off the floor. Stand in this position for as long as you can, building up to 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
If this exercise is too difficult, hold onto a chair for support. If it’s too easy, hold the position for 60 seconds, or really push yourself by doing the exercise with your eyes closed.
Sit to Stand
Position a sturdy chair near a support surface such as table or countertop. Sit on the chair with your feet flat on the ground. Shift your weight forward over your toes as you press your heels into the floor and straighten your legs until you’re standing. If you need to steady yourself, hold the countertop or table. Repeat at least 10 times.
If this exercise is too difficult, add a cushion to raise the seat of your chair, or place your hands on the seat of the chair and use them to push upright.
A Word of Caution
If physical activity hasn’t been a regular part of your lifestyle, consider talking to your doctor before you try these balance exercises for seniors. Be sure to mention any falls you’ve had, even if you weren’t injured, and any experiences with dizziness or vision changes that may be impacting your balance.
Wellness at Jefferson’s Ferry
At Jefferson’s Ferry, we know staying active is an important part of successful aging. Here you’ll find fitness and balance classes taught by certified senior fitness instructors, walking paths, a swimming pool, and many other opportunities to keep moving and stay fit. Of course, well-being is more than simply physical fitness. We strive for a balanced approach to whole-person health through wellness programs that support seven dimensions of well-being: physical, social, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, vocational and environmental. Contact us to find out more about how you can enjoy an active — and well-balanced — life at Jefferson’s Ferry.