Each year, 3 million senior adults are treated in emergency rooms for fall injuries. One out of five falls results in a serious injury, such as a broken bone or a head injury. Understandably, many people who fall become so afraid of falling again that they begin avoiding activities they once enjoyed. Sometimes they become afraid of going out at all.
Many factors can increase your risk of falling:
- changes in vision, such as cataracts
- decreased sensation in feet, ankles, or knees
- decline in lower body strength
- slowed reaction time (happens as we age)
- unstable footwear
- loose rugs, household clutter, or uneven floor surfaces
If you’re concerned about falls, for yourself or a loved one, the good news is you can reduce your likelihood of falling by improving your balance and overall strength.
TRY THIS: Assess your risk of falling
This simple two-part assessment can be done easily at home and will give you an idea of your current risk of falling. This is best done with a partner to time you.
Single Leg Balance Test:
- Stand with your arms at your side.
- Focus your eyes on an object in front of you.
- Now lift one foot, bending the knee and bringing the foot up toward your rear. Do not allow your legs to touch each other.
- See how long you can stand this way WITHOUT touching the foot to the floor, swaying, or raising your arms. (If you make it a full minute, you’re off-the-charts awesome so don’t bother timing past that!)
- Write down your time. There is no “right” answer but doing this test occasionally can help you see if you’re improving your balance.
The average time for someone under 50 years of age is about 40 seconds but that time decreases with age. In comparison, the time for someone over age 80 is just 6-15 seconds; this demonstrates how important it is to practice balance and strength exercises!
Sit-to-Stand Fall Risk Assessment:
- Place a sturdy chair with it’s back against a wall so it won’t slip or slide.
- Sit toward the front of the chair with your feet flat on the ground.
- Cross your arms and place hands on opposite shoulders.
- Set a timer for 30 seconds; this works best with a buddy to time you.
- Stand (all the way up!) and sit as many times as possible in 30 seconds.
How’d you do? If you did 19 or more repetitions, you’re a rock star. If you did 10-18, you’re about average for an older adult. Less than 10 reps means you need to work on improving your lower body strength and power; you can start working on that today!
Stability practice at home:
I include strength and stability training in every class I teach. Beginning in February, I’ll be switching my Tuesday class over to a new format focusing specifically on improving your balance, and I’ll be kicking it off with a 12-week fall-prevention focus.
No matter what types workouts or classes you usually do, it’s a good idea to do a bit of balance work every day — and at every age! Try these 6 exercises you can do at home: Stability Exercises for Strength and Balance. I’ll also be sharing exercises on facebook and instagram that you can do regularly to help improve your balance and prevent falls, so follow along there for more.
A quick note on footwear: I encourage you to try these balance exercises barefoot (or sock-footed) when you are at home. When we wear shoes, we lose much of the information our brains can use from the feeling of our feet on the ground. Training barefoot removes those barriers and as a bonus, it works the muscles in the feet more than when we wear shoes.
Questions or comments? Email me or leave a comment below!