From Harvard Health Publishing / Harvard Medical School
“An older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall every 11 seconds, with injuries ranging from simple cuts and bruises to broken bones … Falls are a leading cause of death among older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an older adult dies from a fall every 19 minutes. Despite these sobering statistics, falls are not an inescapable part of aging; on the contrary, most falls are largely preventable.”
I have a confession to make. I am a fall risk. Actually, “risk” is an understatement. I have fallen so many times, I have lost count. Facing that fact is difficult. I have written about the dangers of falling in my book, How to Age with Grace, and in numerous blog posts. The following sentence is a tip from “20 Tips for Deciding the Best Place to Live.”
“How do you know when it’s time to face the need for help? The biggest clue is when you find yourself falling.”
Ok, so I am definitely a candidate for help. The question is what kind of help? The list of possibilities is long.
Here are five specific actions I should take to minimize my risk of falling.
- Stay mentally active. Cognition is a key factor in balance and fall risk. Staying mentally active and participating in mind-body exercises such as tai chi, yoga, or dance, are particularly effective fall-prevention strategies for older adults.
- Review your medications. Be aware that some medications have side effects (drowsiness, dizziness, muscle weakness, etc.) that may alter your balance and lead to a fall.
- Have your vision and hearing checked regularly. Wearing glasses and hearing aids when prescribed can reduce the likelihood of balance issues and falls.
- Conduct an annual home inventory. Reorganizing the bedroom, kitchen, living room, and other common areas is important to reduce falls and/or prevent them from recurring over time.
- Make exercise part of your daily routine. According to the Harvard Medical School Special Health Report, Better Balance, tight, inflexible, or weak muscles and poor posture can lead to falls. Regular exercise may reduce the number of people who fall by 15 percent.
Here are 5 Exercises That Will Improve My Balance
Tree pose is great on the floor, a folded mat, or BOSU. It strengthens your ankles, improves your balance, and engages your core.
- Stand with feet together, spine tall, and arms outstretched. If you are on a BOSU, you can use either side, ball or flat.
- Slowly lift your left foot up to the side of your calf and balance on the right foot only.
- Slowly lift arms overhead to make the branches of the tree. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs.
Single-Leg Dead Lift
With or without dumbbells, this move not only strengthens your hamstrings and glutes, but it also challenges your balance and activates your abdominal wall.
- Stand on either the ball side of a BOSU or the floor (as pictured) with feet close together and put most of your weight onto your right foot.
- Stare at a focal point on the floor in front of you and slowly lower your torso to the ground while lifting your left leg behind you. Keep your spine neutral and reach your hands toward the floor.
- Stop when your back is parallel to the floor. Keep your right knee soft.
- Squeeze your hamstrings, glutes, and abs as you slowly raise back up and return your back foot to the floor.
- Switch sides. Try for 8 deadlifts on each side.
This is one of the best core exercises around. It challenges the transverse abdominus (your deep core muscles), and improves core stability.11
- Sit down just in front of the bull’s-eye center of a BOSU, placing feet wide and stable on the floor.
- Slowly lower your back until you are laying on the BOSU with your lower back on or slightly in front of the bull’s-eye. You will adjust this in a moment.
- Draw abdominals in toward your midline and reach your arms out wide.
- Slowly lift one leg at a time, keeping them wide so that your arms and legs now resemble a dead bug.
If this is too difficult for you to hold for a few seconds, push your body back a few inches so that more of your lower back and glutes are on the BOSU.
Squats on BOSU
Adding the unstable surface of a BOSU to your basic squat will train your body to engage all the right muscles at the right time.
- Stand on the ball side of a BOSU with feet hip-width apart.
- Sit back into squat position with weight sinking into your heels.
- Engage your glutes and hamstrings as your press back up to standing position. Try 8 to 10 reps.
Balancing Reverse Lunges
Lunges are naturally a balance activity because you are ending up on one leg at a time. Standing on a BOSU or a folded mat will make them even more of a challenge.
- Stand on the top of the ball side of the BOSU with feet close together.
- Bending the right knee, slowly stretch the left leg behind you onto the floor until both knees are bent.
- Press straight up through your right leg as you return the left foot to the top of the BOSU. Switch legs. Try for 8 to 10 lunges per leg.