By Susie Reiner, PhD
Anyone can fall. But as we age, our risk of falling becomes greater. One in four adults over 65 will experience at least one fall this year, making them among the most common causes of injuries in older adults.
Thankfully, you can prevent many falls before they happen. Avoiding falls starts with understanding their root causes, and the vital role exercise can play in prevention. Staying safe on your feet is a matter of taking steps to protect yourself with these tips.
In later years, studies show slight changes in your central nervous system and senses (think: vision and hearing) can affect your gait and balance. When you add low muscle strength and poor agility to the equation, you may be at a higher risk of falling.
Falls present a risk of serious injury or at least take you away from your normal routine. Even if you don’t sustain an injury during a fall, it could spark a fear of falling. People tend to avoid certain activities if they think they might fall again. That's not unreasonable; your chance of falling doubles after your first fall, according to the CDC.
While falls (or even the fear of falling) can influence long-term independence, physical activity is the first step in prevention. It will be critical for your health and longevity.
Regular exercise is the most effective method for decreasing the rate of falls and increasing quality of life in adults aged 65 or older. Exercise helps maintain muscle fibers and the nerves that control them, so you can react to unexpected obstacles.
Strength training is beneficial in reducing the risk of falls because it improves your balance, flexibility, and coordination. Aerobic exercise keeps you on your toes with added agility and speed. Both types of training also help you effectively decelerate movement, so you can catch yourself when you lose your footing.
Even if you take a spill, you’ll be less likely to sustain a fracture, or a break, if you’re physically active. Exercise builds resilient bones by reducing rates of osteoporosis. Be sure to include weight-bearing activities (like walking, jogging, dancing) and strength training to reap the bone density benefits of exercise.
There’s no reason to tiptoe through life hoping to prevent a fall–there are tangible ways you can feel and be more secure in your everyday life. Here are some helpful tips to reduce your risk of a fall:
The bottom line: Your long-term health and quality of life may take a hit when you experience a fall. But there are numerous strategies to prevent falling before it even happens. Following a regular exercise program that builds strength and balance and creating a safe living space will keep you on your toes.