We've all heard about the benefits of physical activity, but exercise can actually help prevent falls as well. A harmless tumble can quickly become serious, often causing injuries to the hips, knees and even arms and shoulders. Most falls are at least partly due to a lack of proper function in the hip muscles. In order to control the body’s balance, messages need to be sent from the joints of the legs, hips and back, to the brain. The brain then quickly processes the input and sends messages back to the legs to control the muscles while changing the body’s position.
Muscles can lack the strength needed to keep the body balanced or to help it correct itself when out of balance. If the muscles don’t function well, when they receive the message from the brain, the body can get too far out of balance resulting in a fall.
So basically, we have established two issues you can work on to help prevent falls: strength and neurological training (the speed at which the messages get to and from the brain and to the muscles). Below are a few basic exercises to help correct these weaknesses. These should be done 1-2 times a day, at least 5 times a week. If you are not able to do the number of repetitions listed, start with a number you can handle and gradually increase the amount.
- Sit to stand. Sit on the front edge of a solid chair. Stand up without using your hands. Slowly lower yourself back to sitting, without plopping yourself onto the chair. Use your hands only if needed. Do: 10 repetitions
- Side-lying leg lift*. Lie on your side with your legs resting on top of each other. Keeping the body still, lift the top leg slowly, keeping it in line with the body. Do not let the foot come forward. Do: 10 repetitions*If you are not able to do the exercise as described, try starting in the same position with the knees slightly bent. Keeping the heels together, open the knees (like a clamshell). As you become comfortable with this approach, attempt the side-lying leg lift.Do: 15-20 repetitions
- Single leg stance. Stand in front of the kitchen or bathroom counter, don’t lean on it. Attempt to stand on one foot for as long as possible without using your hands. You might only be able to stand for a few seconds initially, but keep at it. This is one of the most important exercises you can do. It retrains the nerves and strengthens at the same time. Once you get up to 30 seconds without losing your balance, try doing it with your eyes closed. Again, do this near a solid surface that you can grab in case you lose your balance.
- Heel raises. Stand in the same position as the single leg stance. This time go up on your toes as high as possible on both feet at the same time. Hold: 2-3 secondsRepeat: 10-20 times Once this becomes easy, try doing one foot at a time.
- Wall standing. Stand with your back against the wall (or back of a door if no wall space is available). Stand as straight as possible with the shoulders, head, lower back and hips against the wall. A good upright posture promotes better balance and lines up your body. Hold: 30 seconds Do: 3-5 repetitions
These exercises might not be easy, but keep working. Persistence and gradual improvements are the keys to fall prevention exercises.