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Use it or lose it

Regular exercise can lower the fall risk in older adults.

Article Author: Johnny Woodhouse

Article Date:

older Hispanic woman lifting weights in living room
Seniors can actually gain a lot of functional strength back by just starting to exercise.

As people age, many experience a loss of muscle mass. This condition, known as sarcopenia, can interfere with or compromise the ability to balance, putting individuals at risk for falling, as well as a predictable downward spiral of functional strength.

Many people aren't aware that, by far, falls are the leading cause of injury-related Emergency Department visits for older adults. Falls are a major cause of hip fractures and are responsible for more than half of fatal head injuries, according to the National Council on Aging.

Maintain your mobility with age

You've probably heard the saying, "use it or lose it," when it comes to physical conditioning. The same applies to seniors who lose strength, stamina and endurance if they don't stay active. This is because a sedentary lifestyle can weaken muscles and lead to brittle bones.

As muscle mass decreases with age, once-simple everyday tasks like rising out of bed or getting out of a chair or car can become challenging. The risk of falling becomes much higher, especially for those who are taking multiple medications.

Alison Bartfield, MD, an internist and the medical director for Baptist Health's AgeWell Center for Health, shared that it's important to connect with senior patients and help identify opportunities to improve nutrition, hydration and exercise to help enhance their health.

"At any age, but especially for our seniors, we want to take a look at simple lifestyle changes they can make to improve their quality of life. Some patients may not be getting enough water or nutrition from their meals, while others may be taking more medications than needed and experiencing unnecessary side effects like dizziness, which can lead to a higher risk of falls," Dr. Bartfield said.

Regain your balance with physical therapy

Seniors who are at risk of injuring themselves in a fall or who are simply avoiding walking and moving can benefit from a comprehensive physical therapy assessment and treatment plan that can help maintain and even improve their safety.

Someone may benefit from this type of program if they have:

  • Apprehension about losing balance or falling
  • A sedentary lifestyle or lack of physical activity
  • Difficulty or slowness with walking
  • Difficulty getting down to or up from a seated position or the floor
  • Complaints of fatigue, weakness or lack of energy

Dr. Bartfield recommended muscle-strengthening exercises because they not only help improve balance, but also can prevent falls altogether by building muscle mass.

"Muscle-strengthening exercises are much more beneficial to a senior's overall health. Chair exercises may help the heart, but they aren't tackling one of the greatest contributors to falls: balance," she said.

Concerns about your balance as you age? We can help.

AgeWell's InBalance program program uses a variety of assessments to measure and treat balance concerns in patients 65 and older to establish a baseline to develop a customized conditioning schedule.

Learn more about AgeWell programs

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