4 tips to stay healthy and help prevent falls as you age

(BPT) – As you age, your risk of falling increases. According to the CDC, one out of four people over the age of 65 falls each year and falling once doubles your chances of falling again. While many conditions can put you at risk for a fall, there are simple steps you can take to boost your overall health to try to decrease the likelihood of falling.

Carol Cummings, senior director of Optimum Life at Brookdale Senior Living, explains how keeping active increases mobility, improves overall health and can help prevent falls. Brookdale encourages its residents to stay active with B-Fit, a specially designed program of fitness classes that supports well-being and functional capabilities, while also providing a social outlet.

How can you lower your risk of falling? The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week, incorporating balance, strength, cardiovascular and flexibility exercises. Consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

1. Balance.

You can improve your sense of balance with exercise and regular check-ups. “Balance is very complex, and many factors affect our equilibrium,” says Cummings. “These factors include our vision, hearing, reaction time and overall strength.” The first thing you can do is have your vision checked, and update prescriptions for glasses or contacts if necessary. Also ask your doctor for a hearing check.

Some examples of simple balance exercises you can do on your own include:

* Walk heel-to-toe for 20 steps. Steady yourself with a wall if you need support.

* Walk normally in as straight a line as you can.

* See how long you can stand on one foot — try holding that position for 10 seconds on each leg. Make sure to do this near a wall or railing in case you feel unsteady. If standing on one foot is too challenging, try this progression:

* Start by holding on to a wall or sturdy chair with both hands to support yourself.
* Next, hold on to your support with just one hand.
* Then hold on with just one finger of that hand.
* When you are steady enough, try balancing for a few seconds with no support.

Overall exercises to help improve balance include tai chi and any other muscle strengthening exercises.

2. Strength training. Improving muscle strength increases your ability to stay mobile and avoid falls. “We all lose muscle mass with age, beginning around age 40 and accelerating as we get older,” explains Cummings. “Strength training is vital to combating loss of muscle and maintaining strength. Your legs and core constitute your base of support. When you don’t have a strong base, you are more likely to fall. Studies show that those engaged in a strength training program improve their balance.”

Some muscle strength training exercises you can try on your own include:

* To build arm strength, slowly lift and lower a set of hand weights while sitting. Use cans of soup if you don’t have weights.

* Sitting in a straight-back chair, straighten one leg out, then relax it back down, then extend the other leg. While doing several of these “kicks,” raise the knee of the outstretched leg a little higher than the bent leg.

* Strength training doesn’t have to involve much movement. You can do isometric contractions by focusing on one muscle at a time, flexing and holding those muscles for 30 to 60 seconds. Start with 10 seconds, increasing as you build strength.

3. Cardio. This means getting your heart going by steady, repeated movements. Find activities you love to do and make them part of your routine, at least 30 minutes most days. Whether it’s swimming, golf, dancing, riding a bike or walking, cardio activity not only keeps you fit and mobile, but releases stress and boosts your mood. Doing activities with a friend or group — or four-legged companion — makes it more fun and easier to maintain.

4. Flexibility. Staying flexible is difficult as we age, and is often neglected. Whether you sign up for a yoga class or do simple stretches at home, it’s important to stretch after a workout to help avoid injury. Remember to take deep breaths when you are stretching to avoid clenching up muscles. Stretching can be done standing or sitting.

* One easy stretch for your arms and upper back while sitting is to reach your arms across your chest in a big self-hug, stretching your hands as far around yourself as you can. Breathe in and out while you hold the stretch for 10 seconds.

Research shows that staying active as you age not only reduces the risk of falling, but also helps lower blood pressure, lowers rates of heart disease and dementia, plus reduces stress, anxiety and depression. Cummings concludes, “Exercise is probably the most important behavior that helps you maintain health and well-being as you age. The biggest reasons to exercise as you get older are to maintain function, to live as independently as possible and to continue doing the activities you love.”

The above content is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content in this article, especially if you have a medical condition. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Falls and fractures: Facts and tips that may limit falls

(BPT) – As we age, we begin to learn – sometimes firsthand – how devastating a fall can be. It isn’t quite as easy as it once was to hop back up and continue on our way.

Each year, more than one in four Americans aged 65 and over experience a fall, which contributes to roughly 3 million emergency room visits and nearly 30,000 deaths per year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the majority of falls are non-life-threatening, they can take a serious toll on quality of life and independence.

The good news, however, is that most falls are preventable.

“Being aware of the risk factors and taking the proper precautions can reduce your chances of serious injury, and help you maintain and improve the quality of your health and remain independent,” said Dr. James Metcalf, a medical director with UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement.

Read on for important risk factors and tips for avoiding falls:

  • Lower-body strength – People who have weaker lower bodies or have trouble with balance and walking should take extra precautions. Do exercises that can strengthen your legs and improve balance.
  • Medication – Any time you get a new prescription, ask your pharmacist or doctor about side effects like dizziness or drowsiness. These can affect your balance.
  • Footwear – Pay attention to foot pain as it may be a symptom of poor footwear. Make sure your shoes fit appropriately and are comfortable. Wear low-heeled shoes with rubber soles for good traction. Generally, avoid wearing slippers, shoes with leather soles or high heels. See a doctor if you are experiencing foot pain.
  • Clutter – Most falls happen at home. Rugs or objects in your way can be problematic. Remove clutter, fix steps that are uneven and make sure there is adequate lighting throughout your home.
  • Physical support – If you don’t already have them, install grab bars and handrails in the bathroom and on stairways. Use a cane, walker, crutches or anything else that will help make walking easier.
  • Hearing and vision – Get your vision and hearing checked regularly. Problems with hearing or sight can throw off your balance and coordination. Ask your doctor if you could benefit from some vision or hearing aids.

“Falls are more common than many people think, and all of us are susceptible,” said Metcalf. “So be aware of risks from your medications, stay active, clear your home of trip hazards and talk to your doctor about strategies you could try to avoid a potentially devastating fall.”

Learning Something New Could Boost Your Brain, Bank Balance

Both bodies and brains need exercise to stay fit, and it’s especially important for seniors when it comes to remaining active and engaged as they age. While having a leisurely lunch with friends or successfully mastering your morning crossword puzzle has its benefits, certain activities are more effective than others. And some can even pad your bank account.

Research cited by the Association for Psychological Science has found that seniors who learned completely new skills, such as digital photography or quilting, in socially interactive settings showed the greatest gains in cognitive functioning. That’s true even when compared with other seniors who had been assigned to participate in purely social activities or engage in more familiar activities at home, such as completing word puzzles or listening to classical music.

Get Together and Learn Something New

Since it makes sense to combine social stimulation with mastering mentally-challenging tasks, why not sign up for an online or in-person class with a group of friends? For example, you can enroll as a group in a photography, quilting, or knitting class at a local store or community college, and schedule social events where you can sharpen your new skills.

Want to be more active? Have your group look into a sports league or try a new physical activity together. Things like golf, bowling, volleyball or tennis are great options for larger groups. You get to engage with one another and get moving. If big groups aren’t your thing, ask a friend or two to join you for yoga or tai chi classes. These practices can promote physical and mental engagement as you focus on breath and movement. Not sure where to find a class? If you’re a Medicare Advantage member, you likely have access to a Silver Sneakers-affiliated fitness center that offers classes specifically for seniors. Before paying more than you should, see what your plan covers.

Whatever you choose to do, making a concerted effort to learn a new skill challenges your brain, helps boost your confidence and potentially opens the door to a whole new chapter in your life.

Maybe Make It More Than a Hobby

If you’ve mastered a new craft, such as woodworking, knitting or quilting, you could consider marketing your wares online. E-commerce websites including eBay, Etsy, and Handmade at Amazon have made setting up an online store relatively easy for small sellers. Etsy alone hosted 1.9 million active sellers who brought in $2.84 billion in gross merchandise sales in 2016.

Alternatively, if you’ve got the savvy, take on the task of setting up your own small business site. There are several tech tools, such as Squarespace, WordPress, Weebly and Wix, that allow users to create customized sites for free or with a relatively modest investment. Setting up your own site might encourage you to master a whole new set of mentally-challenging skills.     

Do Your Homework

Seniors who decide to parlay their new passion into a paycheck should research the financial implications of taking in extra income or going back to work. Depending on how much you bring in, earning income could impact the retirement benefits you recieve from your previous employer or affect government payments such as Social Security. Organizations including AARP offer numerous resources for seniors still in the workforce or those thinking about returning to work after retirement. 

Whether you learn something new simply for the brain boost or use your newly-acquired skills to build up your bank account, taking on fresh challenges with friends is bound to benefit body, mind, and soul for years to come.