The Role of Fitness in Fall Prevention
By Amy Rauworth
For older adults, individuals with balance impairments, and those with osteoporosis, an effective fall prevention program can decrease the occurrence of serious injuries such as hip fractures, head injuries, and other complications due to falls. Fitness can play an important role in a fall prevention program. Read more to find out how you can include fall prevention strategies in your physical activity.
Is the fear of falling causing you to avoid certain activities? Physical activity cannot only reduce the risk for falls but can be an empowering tool that can give you the confidence to engage fully in all of life’s opportunities.
We know that exercise has many benefits, but just in case you need a reminder as to why you should start a physical activity program or maintain your current level of activity, here are a few good reasons:
- Increased heart and lung function
- Improved ability to perform activities of daily living
- Protection against development of chronic diseases
- Decreased anxiety and depression
- Enhanced feeling of well-being
- Weight control
- Lower cholesterol and blood pressure
In addition to these overwhelming benefits, studies have shown that a challenging and safe exercise program can improve balance and mobility. It can also reduce the fear of falling. This fear can cause a person to stop moving, decrease his or her social participation, and, as a result, experience greater deconditioning and weakness. Such a downward spiral can be broken if a comprehensive physical activity program is established and practiced on a regular basis.
A comprehensive physical activity program includes all four components of health-related fitness:
- Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, achieved through walking, using an arm ergometer, or swimming.
- Muscle strength and endurance, accomplished by using Thera-bands, weighted medicine balls, or resistive exercise machines.
- Flexibility exercise, which may include general stretching exercises, Tai chi activities, and yoga poses.
- Body composition, which addresses the amount of body fat which a person has rather than only using a person’s weight. You can be thin yet still be unhealthy if you have a high percentage of fat mass in comparison to lean body tissue (muscle). An appropriate balance of exercise and good nutrition can be an effective strategy to address this component.
Before beginning an exercise program, it is important to have your risk for falls assessed by a medical professional. If your fall risk is high, this may mean that you will need to begin your activities in a one-on-one supervised manner. If your fall risk is moderate, you may wish to join a group exercise class that will provide exercise alternatives such as seated activities when necessary and offers a supervised setting. If your fall risk is minimal, independent exercise may be advised, but precautions, such as making sure the space is clear of obstacles and being familiar with your environment, can help to prevent any possibilities of a fall.
What type of exercises should be performed to assist in a fall prevention program?
- Balance exercises that involve maintaining standing and postural stability under a variety of conditions, such as walking on sand, using foam pads of differing densities to stand on while performing the exercise, or closing your eyes during the exercise.
- Principle of specificity -- in order to improve function of a system through exercise, the exercise must stimulate that system. You must tailor the program to your needs and be sure to focus on the areas that need to be improved.
- A comprehensive program should address all components of fitness as stated previously.
Sample Physical Activity Program
- Monday: Cardiorespiratory exercise for 10 to 30 minutes (walk, jog, bike, swim)
- Tuesday: Strengthening and balance exercises
- Wednesday: Cardiorespiratory exercise for 10 to 30 minutes
- Thursday: Strengthening and balance exercises
- Friday: Cardiorespiratory exercise 10 to 30 minutes
- Saturday: Gardening or other recreational activity for 10 to 30 minutes
- Sunday: Strengthening and balance exercises
Guidelines and Suggestions
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing and shoes with good support.
- Perform a warm-up and cool-down with every exercise session.
- Start slowly and progress gradually.
- Use the Borg RPE scale and heart rate to monitor intensity. (If you are taking blood pressure or heart medication-beta blockers, diuretics, or anti-anginals, use RPE rather than heart rate.)
- Use the talk test as a final estimation of intensity. You should be able to carry on a conversation during your workout. If you are breathless and cannot talk, you should decrease the intensity to a more comfortable level.
- Breathe properly; never hold breath while straining, especially in the presence of high blood pressure.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Maintain proper posture and form with each exercise.