Move It or Lose It!
For Americans 65 and older, falling down can be the worst thing to happen to them. According to statistics from the National Council on Aging, one in three seniors experiences a significant fall each year. Once every 18 seconds, a senior is admitted into an emergency room after losing their balance and hitting the ground. Every 35 minutes an elderly person dies from a fall—the leading cause of death for seniors.
The projected cost in healthcare expenses for 2020 due to fall-related injuries in the US is $55 billion according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s important for seniors to keep moving and learning. That’s what helps improve balance and coordination, and even helps build new neural pathways. But if you’re rather frail, or just very fearful of falling, you’re less likely to get up and move around.
A fun, social program of games and activities—including exercises specifically designed for seniors—helps them address multiple issues. Such a program will help seniors avoid the temptation to be sedentary, which only lessens their strength and balance.
Last year, the Move with Balance program I created was independently evaluated by Hawaii’s Department of Health, which found a 38 percent reduction in falls from seniors. The program also won the MindAlert Award from the American Society on Aging.
Seniors of all ages need to continually work on improving their balance, coordination, strength, vision, and cognitive skills. When they do, they’re less likely to fall, and more able to enjoy life.
Moves to help your balance
After light warm-ups, begin with the basic cross-crawl, which focuses on the fundamentals of balance. March in place, lifting the knees high. At the same time, reach across and touch the lifted knee with the opposite hand or elbow: alternate and keep going. This can be done sitting, standing, or lying down. Once any of these exercises are mastered participants should continue to challenge themselves. For even greater balance work, and to exercise the vestibular system, close your eyes and count backwards from 100 by threes while doing the exercise. It’s not fun if you’re not conquering a challenge.
Forward toe-touch dancer
There are many dance exercises that are appropriate for seniors that will help them improve motor skills, physical coordination, and cognition, and the forward toe-touch dancer is a great introduction. Start by placing your feet shoulder-width apart, then simultaneously extending your left foot and your right arm forward. (You may need to use a chair initially for balance.) Keep your left toes pointed down, touching the floor. (To add difficulty, maintain the toes a few inches off the floor.) Repeat this move with your left arm and right foot. Hold each pose for several seconds, and increase holding time.
Sensory integration—the arrow chart
Look at an arrow chart and call out the direction indicated by each individual symbol. Then thrust your arms in that direction. In other words, say and do what the arrow indicates. For an additional challenge, do the opposite of what the arrow indicates.
Walk sidestepping by bringing your right foot across the left and stepping down three to five inches away from the left foot, ankles crossed. The closer the feet, the harder it is to balance. Alternate crossing the foot in front of and then behind the other foot as you move along. Repeat several times, then do the same with opposite feet. As a bonus challenge, try a reading exercise from a vision card designed to stimulate the brain/visual system while sidestepping.
The cat jump
This activity is practice in case of a fall—the muscle memory of the movement will be etched in your body. Bend your knees in a squat. Jump a little off the ground with both feet, and land softly, like a cat, without jarring your body. Repeat until you are confident in your ability to prevent a spill.
Research shows that most falls are preventable. These and other exercises, performed regularly, are a great way to achieve safety and a revitalized lifestyle.
Karen Peterson is founder and director of Giving Back, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of elders through intergenerational mentoring. She is certified as an educational kinesiologist, natural vision improvement instructor, Touch for Health instructor, and massage therapist, and has taught these modalities for 25 years; movewithbalance.org.
Optimize Your Joints
By Jacob Teitelbaum
If you want to maintain flexible, healthy joints, you need to use them the way nature intended. Namely, you need to move them!
I suggest exercising at least 20 minutes daily. Go for a walk outdoors: As an added bonus, it is great for boosting levels of vitamin D, which supports healthy muscles and joints. Swim or exercise in a heated pool—the buoyancy and warmth make this an ideal exercise for joints that need a helping hand. Yoga, t’ai chi, or any other form of stretching are also good.
It’s important to note that pain is your body’s way of saying “Don’t do that!” If you feel unusual pain while exercising, stop. Don’t try to push through it.
Heat and stretch
A great way to improve flexibility is to use a heating pad or any other kind of moist heat for five to 15 minutes on an affected joint, then slowly and gently move the bothered joint, gradually reclaiming your full range of motion.
For joints in your hands, try the herbal-filled “bean bags” you can heat up in the microwave then put on your hands. After five to 15 minutes, gently stretch your fingers.
Building Bones: Regular Weight-Bearing Exercise Tips for Seniors
By Dick Benson
There is a direct relationship between diet and exercise. If you have decided to begin eating a healthier diet, you may not achieve weight loss and improved body toning without also undertaking a regular exercise program. Starting the right kind of exercise in combination with other preventive measures like appropriate calcium intake can help build bone mass, especially in sites at a high risk of fracture, like the wrist, hip, and spine.
You don’t need to join a health club to start an exercise program. Building bone mass can be accomplished through weight-bearing exercises. A weight-bearing exercise is one that works the bones and muscles against gravity. Walking, jogging, dancing, and hiking are popular weight-bearing activities along with recreational sports such as volleyball, softball, basketball, tennis, and golf.
These programs are also a great way for seniors to extend their social networks by participating in activities with others that share their interests. Which exercise is best for you will depend on your overall health, interests, and current exercise program.
Speak with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program—this is especially true for anyone who has been sedentary for the majority of their life or has been diagnosed with any health condition. Certain movements that require twisting of the spine or bending forward from the waist (like sit-ups or toe touches), and most high-impact exercise, can put some people at risk. They should be avoided until your healthcare provider says you’re ready.
When starting a new exercise program take it slow initially with daily sessions of 20 - 30 minutes. Build to a level of 50 - 60 minutes daily, adding strength training sessions two to three times each week. You may also find it easier to break up your sessions when starting out—instead of exercising for 30 minutes consecutively, you may want to try walking for 15 minutes twice a day.
You may also want to consider working with a personal trainer to learn proper progression of exercise, how to stretch and strengthen muscles safely, and how to correct poor posture. No matter what your exercise program is, make sure that you enjoy the activity, can easily fit it into your schedule, and most importantly are not stressed out. Eating a healthy diet combined with regular exercise can be key to living a long and active life.