Read these 15 Senior Exercises Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Balance tips and hundreds of other topics.
When thinking about what might put you at risk for a fall and resultant injury, there are a number of risk factors. Certain diseases, syndromes and disabilities will raise the risk of falling. Parkinson's Disease, a history of stroke, arthritis, cognitive impairment and visual impairments can all adversely affect balance and stability. To mitigate these risks, seniors should see a health care provider regularly for chronic conditions and have an eye doctor check their vision at least once a year. Some medications can also adversely affect balance and reaction times; asking your doctor or pharmacist to review all your medicines and their interactions to understand and reduce side effects may help. Functional strength training and balance exercises can help modify the risks created by lower body weakness and mobility challenges.
If you are in generally good health, but do suffer from osteoporosis, gentle weight-bearing and balance-focused exercises can help you reduce bone loss, conserve bone mass, and stay physically active. Walking, low-impact aerobics, dancing, yoga, Pilates, and swimming are all good options that let you go at your own pace, but that provide functional training. Note that swimming is not a weight-bearing exercise, but it is often a preferred exercise for people with severe osteoporosis because it improves cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength while removing the risk of a fall. Of course, always consult a health care professional before incorporating any new activity into your exercise regimen.
Moderate, regular exercise is an essential part of any osteoporosis treatment program. However, any program should be undertaken with your doctor or physical therapist's advice and guidance, and should be begun slowly. Overly vigorous exercise could actually counteract your goals and may reduce the risk of injury. Incorporate balance and functional training into your existing cardiovascular and strength regimen; don't just increase the amount of work you do – change the mix. Remember, you can do more harm than good by doing strength exercises too often. Don't exercise the same set of muscles 2 days in a row.
Many balance exercises are very simple to do – you can do them in your living room! To start, hold onto a table, chair, or doorway to help you. You can also ask someone to spot you. As you progress, hold on with only one hand, and then with a finger, and then hands-free. For people particularly steady on your feet, you too can challenge your balance by trying these exercises with your eyes closed. Only do what you are comfortable doing – there is no sense in falling in your attempts to prevent a fall, after all. Basic balance exercises include walking heel-to-toe, raising and lowering yourself in a chair, and single leg stands. The details of each exercise are listed below.
You might recall this movement from balance beam work in grade school, or just as a childish pastime in which you tried to walk along a crack in the sidewalk. Just position the heel of one foot directly in front of the toes of your opposite foot. Alternate each time you take a step. You may need or want to use your arms to help balance you.
Most people get more out of their senior fitness programs when they exercise regularly (3 to five times a week) and when they integrate different kinds of training into their routine. Seniors will also benefit from such a regular but diversified fitness program. Try to do 15 minutes to one hour of continuous aerobic activity two to three times per week. Perform balance exercises at a level that challenges you but that you can perform safely (hold onto something or be sure to have a spotter accompany you!) for a few minutes at least twice a week. Integrate some core strength training, such as Pilates, or other abdominal and back muscle exercises, on the same days that you work your balance. As you build your functional strength and stability, integrate weight training twice per week, focusing on exercises to strengthen the lower limb, trunk and arm muscles. Finally, include stretching exercises in every workout to promote flexibility and prevent tightness that can lead to hindered balance and injury.
People who have suffered a stroke often are coping with limited mobility, balance challenges, and having to re-learn everyday movements. According to research from Concordia University in Montreal, performing balance exercises under different sensory conditions can help improve postural stability in post-stroke patients. Because people rely on vision, limb sensations and the inner ear to maintain standing balance, it is possible to create different balance challenges by altering the inputs to one of those senses. Due to the physical implications of stroke, patients often rely heavily on their vision to maintain balance. Having these patients perform balance exercises in the dark, or with eyes closed, or using a moving focal point, can help engage the limbs and inner ear and enhance the effectiveness of rehabilitative balance training.
Because people with osteoporosis have bones prone to fracturing, they should avoid high-impact activities, and activities in which sudden motions and potential falls are likely. Such activities include high-impact aerobics, exercise requiring sudden jolts, stops and starts - such as tennis or squash - or activities, exercises that require a twisting motion, such as a golf swing, and any other activity that requires forceful movements. Because golf, tennis, running and other activities included in this list are enjoyable ways for seniors to stay fit, definitely consult with a health-care professional about whether you should be participating in such activities, and how often and at what intensity.
In general, healthy people as old as 90 can reduce their tendency to fall by up to 50 percent through exercise and balance training. While bone fragility presents one challenge for older individuals, the corollary component of that risk is that most fractures occur due to a fall. A lack of strength and balance makes it more likely that an older person will fall and break a bone or injure a joint. It is possible for seniors to improve their muscle strength and balance to help prevent falls. Integrating balance training and functional training, developing core strength, and generally remaining active can help improve muscle strength, develop reaction time and increase mobility, and provide a better sense of balance and coordination. These benefits are also a foundation for increased physical activity, which can reduce bone loss by conserving remaining bone tissue, enhance general fitness, and reduce pain and risk of injury.
Many seniors spend much of their time at home, and one-half to two-thirds of all falls occur in or around the home. Most fall injuries are caused by falls on the same level, rather than falls down the stairs. To make living areas safer, seniors should remove tripping hazards, such as throw rugs and clutter in walkways and install non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors. Installing grab bars next to the toilet and in the tub or shower and having handrails put in on both sides of stairways will also give seniors a way to break their fall should they trip or slip. Finally, improving improve lighting throughout the home can help.
Always consult with your doctor, physical therapist or other health care professional before you decide on an elderly exercise program. Factors that need to be considered include your age, the severity of your osteoporosis, other medical conditions from which you might suffer, the medications you take, your initial fitness level, and your health and fitness goals. Generally, functional training that focuses on developing your balance and whole-body stability will be a good foundation upon which you can layer other cardiovascular activities or strength training exercises to achieve your specific set of goals.
A sedentary lifestyle encourages the loss of bone mass and, for many years, doctors and scientists have been teaching younger people that they could prevent bone loss through a calcium-rich diet and regular activity, including weight-bearing exercise. While this was great information for people who did not have osteoporosis already, it did not provide individuals suffering from severe bone loss with any way to help strengthen their musculoskeletal systems, prevent falls, or ensure faster recovery. The good news is that more recent research suggests that people with existing osteoporosis can also benefit from exercise because exercising regularly not only reduces the rate of bone loss, it also conserves remaining bone tissue, reducing the risk of fractures. It can also help build the muscles surrounding your bones, increase flexibility in the joints, and generally enhance the ability of your muscles, tendons and joints to support and protect the bones.
Osteoporosis is characterized by the loss of calcium and bone tissue in the bones, which makes them susceptible to fracturing (breaking). If not prevented or if left untreated, osteoporosis can progress painlessly until a bone breaks. Fractures typically occur in the hip, spine and wrist, though any bone can be affected. Hip and spinal fractures are of special concern; hip fractures almost always require hospitalization and major surgery, and can permanently limit a person's ability to walk unassisted. Unfortunately, a simple fall that results in a fractured hip all too often causes prolonged or permanent disability, and even death. Spinal or vertebral fractures also have serious consequences, including loss of height, severe back pain and deformity that can further limit mobility, independence and a person's ability to perform daily activities as well as the activities that could limit further risk. While women are four times more likely than men to develop the disease, men also suffer from osteoporosis. While bone loss is affected by diet and hormonal balance, a sedentary lifestyle, poor posture, poor balance and weak muscles increase the risk of falls and fractures.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|