Falls and injuries sustained in falls are a leading cause of disability and loss of independence in seniors. While you can greatly reduce your chance of falling by taking precautions and staying physically fit, not all falls can be prevented.
Luckily, the same balance training exercises that are used to prevent falls can also help prevent injuries if you do fall. This is important because not all falls are balance related. Accidents happen, but how you recover from a fall depends on your strength, flexibility, and balance.
Research published in BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) found that balance training exercises significantly lowered the risk of fall injuries in more than 4,000 participants. This included fractures, which are among the most common and debilitating fall injuries. Those who participate in these exercise programs also find it easier to get up after a fall, and they are less likely to suffer lasting effects such as an enhanced fear of falling.
For seniors, fall prevention and reducing injuries from falls is a priority. Choose an exercise program that’s well-rounded and includes balance training in order to maximize your benefits. Most programs designed for seniors incorporate strength training as well as light cardio, gait, and balance. For healthy, active older adults, there are even more options. These include:
- Tai Chi: Tai chi is a type of martial art. You won’t find yourself chopping wood with your bare hands, though. Instead, tai chi focuses on slow, flowing movements that increase balance and coordination.
- Yoga: Yoga is known primarily for its flexibility-enhancing powers, but it also requires a strong core. By strengthening your abdominal and back muscles, you can build better balance.
- Pilates: Pilates is a low-impact way to build a more muscular core. The slow, controlled movements also help to build stability and muscle control but don’t put undue stress on your joints.
- Zumba: Zumba is a Latin-inspired aerobic dance. It’s popular at many fitness centers, and some studios offer classes specially designed for seniors — these are called Zumba Gold, and they are much lower-impact than the traditional classes.
For seniors who already have balance or strength challenges or who suffer from mobility issues, there are special classes tailored to improvement in overall health. Many of these exercises are chair-based but still include a balance component. Some also focus on functional training, which makes it easier to perform everyday activities independently.
Finding an exercise program near you can be as simple as asking your friends for a recommendation. Your doctor or physical therapist can also offer suggestions in your area. Senior centers often offer classes, and there may be group exercises for seniors available at your local gym or YMCA. Get clearance from your doctor before you start a new exercise program.