Maintaining balance is the key to preventing falls. But as we age the balance system as a whole is less sensitive, less rapid, less accurate and weaker thus increasing our falls risk. A fall or an injury can have a devasting effect on a person. So how can we reduce the risk of falls?
Dr Charlie Foster from the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences, at the University of Bristol is leading a review for the Centre for Ageing Better and Public Health England. I was fortunate enough to attend one of his seminars at Elevate 18. His research involves how muscle strength and balance is crucial in helping people maintain their mobility and independence as they get older.
Prevention of falls
One thing I learnt was that in England 56% of women and 66% of men are achieving recommended physical activity levels. The percentage achieving the strength and balance activities are far lower especially in the over 65’s. There is strong evidence for the additional health benefits of muscle strengthening activities. From the age of 40, people lose 8% of their muscle mass every decade and once over 70, this increases to 15% per decade. However what was shocking was to hear that our younger generation of over 22’s will be hitting these figures at a much earlier stage in their life. This is due to their sedentary habits.
Did you know that approximately 30% of adults over the age of 65 fall each year? Rising to 50% in those aged 80 and over. There is also good evidence that physical activity programmes which emphasise balance training, limb coordination and muscle strengthening activity are safe and effective in reducing the risk of falls. Even so, sedentary behaviour increases with age. It’s recommended that all older adults minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary for extended periods. Sedentary behaviours such as reading, watching TV all have very low levels of energy expenditure.
Barefoot is legal
Exercise is one of the most effective ways to maintain independence and ensure we stay steady on our feet. Anything that challenges our balance and improves muscle strength, particularly in our legs, can help to reduce falls. Walking, gardening and dancing are great examples. There may be a group exercise class in your community that could help you improve your balance. In every FLexercise class balance is always a focus.
Regular muscle, bone strengthening and balance activities are one of the three elements of the UK Chief Medical Officers guidance for physical activity. This is something that we routinely include in our FLexercise classes. Using free weights help to improve the bone building. Working with weights also helps to lower the risk of osteoporosis and arthritis. As a barefoot exercise group, we regularly incorporate foot exercise to help improve strength, flexibility, balance, and agility. Often our feet are the last body part we think of working. Our relationship with gravity begins with the human foot.
So go on, have a bit of fun, take your shoes off now again, walk around the house barefoot. Wriggle your toes and try to pick some daisies with your tootsies.