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.