By Greg Carannante
For many children of elderly parents, these two words can ring like a death knell. Even in less dreaded scenarios, they mean life will no longer be the same for the injured as well as the caregiver.
Each year one in three people age 65 and older falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and over the past decade death rates from falls have risen sharply – so much so that they are the leading cause of fatal as well as non-fatal injuries. Not only are they responsible for most traumatic brain injuries, they also cause 95 percent of hip fractures.
Many who fall develop a fear of falling that can cause them to limit their activities, which makes them less mobile and less physically fit – which completes a vicious cycle by increasing their actual risk of falling.
There is a way, however, that seniors can possibly sidestep such devastating pitfalls as they grow older, and – surprise – it’s exercise.
“Exercise appropriate for the person’s ability and medical condition can play an important role in decreasing risks for falls in older age,” says María Ordóñez, a doctor of nursing practice and director of Florida Atlantic University’s Louis and Anne Green Memory and Wellness Center. She is a principal investigator in the Boca Raton center’s pilot study exploring the effectiveness of an academic nursing center fall-prevention program.
“A program specifically designed for the older adult, including stretching and flexibility movements and exercises to improve balance” may help, says Ordóñez. The CDC adds that workouts should also focus on strengthening legs. Recommended are Tai Chi programs and, to lower the risk of hip fracture, weight-bearing exercises.
Chris Mazzola, a Delray Beach personal trainer, takes it a lot further.
“Weight-bearing exercise is the key to everything,” says Mazzola, who has owned 50 Plus Fitness Center for nine years. “Balance is absent now because people have lost too much muscular strength – and every year we lose a little bit. When we start hitting our 60s and especially in our 70s, you can lose as much as 5 to 8 percent a year.
“The core strength is what’s lost in people who are losing their balance,” Mazzola says. “A lot of people say, ‘My legs are getting weak, that’s why I don’t have balance.’ That’s really not true. It’s not just the legs. What’s getting weak is their core muscles. Core is front, back and sides from your armpits to your hips. Those are the ones that anchor you.
“Strength training with real machines, which are safer than doing free weights, is the way to go. My seniors are lifting 200 pounds in the leg press. They’re doing 60-pound rows.”
Mazzola adds: “You don’t need to have pain to have gain. For most of us, we can get very fit and look very good without experiencing that kind of discomfort.”