You may have heard on the BBC news today that due to an aging population the amount of hospital visits due to falls is on the rise. Falls not only affect us physically – resulting in broken hips, wrists and legs, but can mean becoming housebound, as confidence to go out is affected. You may be reading this doesn’t apply to you (YET!) but you may, however, know someone this article could benefit. So why not forward this article to them or even print it out and send to them in an envelope (remember them?!) if they are not computer literate.
What can we do to help prevent the likelihood of a trip or fall?
We know that not all trips and falls can be prevented, accidents do happen. However, performing a few exercises a week can help and have positive results on the prevention of falls. In this article we are focusing on the intrinsic factors of falls prevention. Making improvements to your physical and mental strength can help reduce the likelihood of a fall as lower limb weakness, functional and cognitive impairment, poor grip strength and balance are all factors that can result in falls. Extrinsic and environment factors not covered in this article these are medication, lighting, loose paving, carpets and so on.
Many factors mean we are at risk of falls and particularly injuries due to falls. Longer periods of sitting and not doing any weight bearing activities which causes our muscle and bone density to fall. This happens through a natural process of aging, however weight bearing activities can help reduce the amount these decrease over the years and even lead to increases in our muscle mass and bone density later in life.
More time sitting and being less active causes our muscles to tighten especially around the hip area. This affects our gait, meaning we shorten our stride as we walk, which can lead to us shuffling.
What can you do?
Strength Exercises – help improve our bone density and muscle strength, this can be improved in later years
Balance drills – balance is key to not falling. As we age our balance deteriorates and reaction time slows.
Diet – this is important for bone health. Eating a healthy balanced diet will provide the correct macronutrients, vitamins and minerals (protein, carbohydrates, fat, calcium, Vitamin D)
Try the following home workout twice a week, as well as walking, if you can, five times a week for 30 minutes. Do not put yourself at risk of a fall if you are currently uneasy on your feet. Build up your activity levels slowly. Ask a friend or family member to come with you.
When using equipment, like a chair to help your balance, make sure it is sturdy.
- ‘Fast’ Feet: This drill should be carried out under control, do not start fast. Stand in front of a stable support. With your feet positioned shoulder hip width apart, feet facing forwards. Lift your left foot, have a slight bend at the right knee. Place your left foot 12 inches to the left, touching the toes to the floor. Then under control bring the foot back to the start position. Repeat for 5-10 seconds before switching sides. As you start to feel comfortable balancing on one leg, slowly increase the speed at which the foot goes out to the side and back.
- Chair Squats: Sit on a chair, with your feet out in front of you on the floor, shins should be vertical. Lean forwards slightly and stand up. Use your hands if needed. Now slowly lower yourself back down into the chair, pushing your hips back as you sit.
- One Leg Balance: stand close to your support (chair, work surface, door frame). Have your feet positioned hip width apart. Lift the left foot off the floor and balance, keep a slight bend in the right knee. Keep your posture upright, looking forwards and neutral spine. If you manage 3 x 10 second holds, think about letting go of the support, but keeping your hand near the support to grab hold of quickly should you lose balance.
- Calf Raises: stand near your support with feet hip width apart. Lift your heels up off the floor, by pushing your toes down into the floor. Push up as high as you feel comfortable. Hold this position for several second before lowering to the floor. These can also be performed in a seated position. With your feet flat on the floor, push through your toes to raise your heels up off the floor.
- Standing Leg Curls: stand near your support with feet hip width apart. Shift your weight to your right leg. Now raise your left foot off the floor and curl the left foot back to your bottom, bending at the knee. Try and keep the left thigh vertical to the floor. Repeat all repetitions on one side before switching sides.
- Standing Hip Flexor: standing in front of your support (chair or work surface). Have your feet positioned hip width apart. Shift the weight to your left foot and lift your right leg up in the air. You are aiming to have your right knee and thigh parallel to the floor. Hold here for up to 30 seconds. Slowly lower to the floor and repeat on the opposite side.
- Hip Flexor Stretch: before getting up in the mornings. Lying on your back in bed, leg straight out in front of you. Bring your right knee up toward your chest, wrap your hands around the knee and gently pull the knee towards you. Hold for 30 seconds before switching sides.
- Hamstring Stretch: stand tall with your feet hip width apart, now move your right foot forwards about 6 inches and have the heel in contact with the floor and toes raised. Have a slight bend in the left knee, slowly lean forwards form the hips. Have your hands on left thigh for support. Keep the spine neutral, imagine you are bowing. Hold for 30 seconds where you feel a stretch in the back of the right leg. Repeat on the left side.