Preventing Falls – Exercise through the ages

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Do we have to?

Not everyone loves to exercise, and certainly much less emphasis has been placed on its importance in the past compared with more recent years. These days we know well that good health and well-being depends largely on eating well, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep. The focus is on preventing disease, rather than treating it. So, for many older people, being told they must exercise is rather like being told they must take a spoonful of cod-liver oil every day. Distasteful at the very least.

However, exercise we must, if we want to live longer and more fulfilling lives. But no-one is expecting us, at the grand old age of 85, to suddenly take up jogging, or join a team sport, or start a spin class, when the most we have ever done is walk briskly, mow the lawn, or clean the house from top to bottom once a week! Sure, if you have spent your life doing those things anyway, the chances are, you will have been protecting your health anyway – but with age comes increasing frailty and these things may be less achievable than they used to be. So what can you do instead?

Easy exercises – to keep you mobile and help you feel good

There are four groups of exercise that older people can focus on. They are pretty easy to get started, but as your strength builds, you may find yourself building on them, doing more, or looking to challenge yourself further. Before you get started, see your GP who can give you the all-clear, especially if you haven’t done any exercise for a while.

  1. Sitting: perfect for an introduction to exercise, whatever you do from the comfort of a dining chair will build your strength and get you ready for more. Arm raises will build your shoulder strength and with controlled breathing at the same time, more oxygen will flow through your veins. Hip marching is good for your flexibility but it will also build the muscles in your hips and thighs. Chest and neck stretches will loosen up those muscles and improve your posture. If you have pain in those areas, stretching will make you feel great.
  2. Flexibility: if you tend to spend a lot of time sitting around, feeling too weary to do anything, exercises to increase your flexibility will make you feel more confident about getting active. Try some calf stretches and sideways bends along with your chest and neck stretches to loosen up your tired, stiff muscles.
  3. Strength: A series of strength-building exercises that you can do from your seat or using a wall to lean on are a great way to get you moving. As your strength improves, you can start to use some small weights to build your strength further.
  4. Balance: Many older people have real problems with balance – as we age, our risk of falling increases, and falls can be debilitating. Doing a simple grapevine exercise once a day, or just a heel to toe routine will help to retrain the brain and restore our ability to balance.
All these exercises, and more, can be found at the NHS Choices website or the Senior Living website. Both websites give detailed instructions for doing the exercises, with pictures.

What else can you do?

If you love your garden, or you like a clean and tidy house, just keeping on top of your daily chores will often be enough to keep you active. Don’t overdo it though – if a job requires you to get into an awkward position that you might struggle to get out of again, it might be time to call in some extra help. Regular walks – even if they are short trips – are a great way to increase your heart rate a little and get some fresh air in your lungs. Try a water aerobics class – it can be a real workout for you, but really worthwhile if balance and flexibility are an issue – you can’t fall over in the water!

To read the other articles in this series click here: Impact of Falls, Preventing Falls.