More than 1 in 4 adults, 65 years and older, fall each year. Falling once doubles your chances of falling again. One out of 5 falls causes a serious injury like a broken bone or head injury. Falls are responsible for more than 95% of hip fractures. One in 5 hip fracture patients dies within a year of their injury.
Over the last 10 years, death from falls has increased by 30% in the United States. By the year 2030, falls will result in 1 death every 7 hours. There is a need for fall prevention programs.
Falls are associated with extrinsic and intrinsic factors. The extrinsic causes are related to the home environment such as rugs, stairs, and poor lighting. The intrinsic causes are related to problems with balance, muscle weakness, poor vision, cognitive deficits, the presence of chronic disease, abnormal blood pressure, or medications. Research shows the most effective ways to prevent falls are through balance exercises and strength training.
Strength Training is Your Key to Fall Prevention
Fall prevention exercise programs for older adults reduce fall rates. They also prevent injuries resulting from falls when they do occur. Not only does strength training improve muscle size and strength but it also improves your bone density. Therefore, strength training improves an individual’s protective responses during a fall. The result is a more resilient adult who is less likely to sustain a debilitating hip fracture from a fall.
We recommend older adults perform weight-bearing lower body strength training a minimum of 2 to 3 days per week. Stick it out for at least 26 weeks to get the best results. Bodyweight exercises, like squats and lunges, are best.
However, using weights, in addition to your body weight, will give you the best results. Light, moderate, or heavy loads are all beneficial. Multiple sets of each exercise produce greater improvements in strength compared to single-set routines. Performing 6 to 10 repetitions per set is best for strength and muscle size. Perhaps most importantly, all strength training exercises initially focus on proper form. Then, you should progress the amount of weight.
The most frequent exercise utilized in fall prevention exercise programs is the sit-to-stand exercise. This exercise involves an activity that older adults perform frequently in their daily lives. You lower your risk for falls when you can do this without needing your hands. It can be easily performed in the physical therapy clinic or at home. Progress the exercise by lowering the height of the chair. Or try holding a weighted object like a medicine ball or kettlebell.
Fall Prevention: Trunk Muscle Strengthening Exercise
Other factors, in addition to lower body strength, are considered when developing the best fall prevention program. One such factor that influences fall risk is your core or trunk muscle strength.
Your abdominal, pelvic, hip, and low back muscles make up your core. These muscles transfer forces from your lower body to your upper body during whole-body movements like walking or climbing stairs. Your trunk muscles are highly active during a trip suffered while walking. These muscles act in order to stabilize your trunk over your feet when you begin to lose balance. Your ability to react to unexpected disturbances (i.e., suddenly being thrown off balance) is delayed in most older adults.
Trunk muscle exercises significantly improve balance in older adults. Trunk muscle-strengthening programs are individually prescribed and progressed by doctors of physical therapy. Resistance bands, light dumbbells, and medicine balls are incorporated based on the individual’s goals. The 90/90 leg lower and Pallof press are two examples of trunk strengthening exercises but there are many more.
Seek Help from Your Physical Therapist
Research supports the benefits of both lower body and trunk strengthening exercises for reducing falls in older adults. Many people overlook the strength of their trunk muscles. Leave these exercises out and you will see only small improvements in your balance.
Individually tailored fall prevention programs get the best results. If you are not sure about how to get started, call your physical therapist to schedule an appointment. The physical therapists at BSR have been helping the people of Southern Ocean County move without pain since 2007. We are always here for you.