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Fall Prevention: How Exercise Protects You From Losing Your Footing

Learn more about how falls impact your long-term health and what you can do to prevent them.
April 7, 2022
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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.

How Falls Impact Long-term Health

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.

Graphic outlining that 1 in 4 adults over 65 will experience at least one fall

How Staying Active Can Help Prevent Falls

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.

Helpful Tips to Keep You On Your Feet

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:

  • Build an exercise plan including cardiovascular  and strength training and aim to work up to meet the physical activity guidelines. Some studies show the benefit of combining balance training with strength workouts. And you don’t even have to leave home–in one study, participants performing a home-exercise program saw almost half as many falls as sedentary participants. 
  • Fall-proof your home by keeping it well-lit and your walkways tidy, ensuring there are handrails for stairs, and treating outdoor walkways appropriately in the winter.
  • Have your vision and hearing checked regularly to keep your senses sharp, and focus on getting enough sleep. Think of these actions as fine tuning your nervous system so you can sense instability and catch yourself before you fall. 
  • Stay hydrated throughout your day as dehydration can lead to orthostatic hypotension, when your blood pressure drops as you get up from a seated position. This acute blood pressure change can cause dizziness which increases the risk of fall.  
  • If you’re on any medications, be sure to check if dizziness is a potential side effect, and alert your doctor of any recent falls or near falls to ensure your plan of care is adjusted appropriately.

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.