As a personal trainer who specializes in helping older adults and seniors maintain and create more independent lifestyles, nothing draws attention more than watching someone "plop" down into a chair, because the intention to move with purpose is lost. To me, this is a clear indication that someone has already taken the first step of muscular deterioration leading down the "slippery slope" towards an unnecessary fall.
Certified as a Senior Populations Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, my fitness training has shown me that older adults with osteoarthritis experience tremendous lifestyle benefits by performing purposeful exercises just one-two times per week. That is good news, because for folks who don't list exercise as a favorite pastime, starting a fitness program after retirement is a challenge, even when the benefits are well understood.
In fact, the Center for Disease Control reports only six percent of adults over age 64 meet the national objectives for physical activity and strength training!
And the facts about the risk of falling are strikingly clear...
Osteoarthritis affects approximately 49% of seniors over 65 years of age (National Academy of Sports Medicine) and often impacts an individual's strength and sense of balance. Compound that with normal muscle atrophy which occurs every year after age 30, and it's not surprising that the Center for Disease Control states that falls among older adults are the most common cause for injury and trauma-related hospital admissions.
Hire a personal trainer?
While you might choose to hire a professional fitness trainer to help you exercise safely and keep you motivated, there are simple things you can do at home to improve balance, leg strength, and core stability. With targeted exercises to address these three key areas, you'll see strength and balance improvements in a matter of weeks, reducing the chances of a fall.
At my personal training studio, clients with osteoarthritis understand that, even though some joint discomfort may be present during weight lifting and cardio based activity. By contrast, sedentary individuals typically experience more rapid deterioration in cartilage and joint health. This is because cartilage is very avascular (has few blood vessels) and the corresponding lack of blood supply means that the only way to nourish the cartilage is to force nutrients into the joint/cartilage through movement.
Simple exercises can help keep your joints healthy and muscles strong
(*Always consult your physician prior to starting any new exercise program and seek professional guidance to adapt the following exercises to match your fitness level and adapt to restrictions given to you by your doctor).
1) Standing Squat:
Start with your feet hip to shoulder width apart. With (or without) dumbbells held by your side, sit down into a chair and stand up, without gaining momentum on the way up, or plopping on the way down. Keep your knees tracking straight ahead over your toes. Raise or lower your seat to adjust for fitness level.
2) Balance Reach:
Standing on 2 feet hip width apart, reach both arms forward as far as possible, bending only at the hip, and keeping your back flat. Try this standing on one foot if two feet is too easy.
3) Elevated Push up:
Place your hands shoulder width apart on a counter top or the arm of a sofa. While squeezing your butt muscles together and keeping the abdominals braced (as if prepared to be punched in the belly), keep your body as straight as possible. Lower your entire body down in one segment using only your arms. Do not let your back arch or your belly sag. Move slowly through each repetition and find a height that matches your ability.
4) Walking Stairs:
In your house, as you walk up the stairs, consciously try to squeeze the glute (butt muscle) with every step. Drive through the heel and stand up tall.
5) Curl Up:
Laying on your back in bed, do your best to sit up straight, reaching your hands toward your toes. Try to avoid placing your hands down on the bed, unless you need the assist.
6) Hand Walk:
Standing with feet shoulder width apart, place your hands on the ground or elevated surface, allowing the knees to bend if necessary. Walk your hands out toward a push up position, then walk your hands back toward your feet and stand up tall. This is a great technique for getting up or down to the floor for folks with really bad knee pain, but reasonable upper body strength and healthy wrists.
Each of the above exercises should be done in a way that challenges you to perform 12-15 repetitions. If you can do more, it's too easy! If you can't get to 12 reps, the exercise is too hard and you increase your risk for injury.
Strength & balance training in addition to proper nutrition are all critical for fall reduction and injury prevention.
Jeff Eckhouse, B.S. Exercise Science
NASM-Certified Personal Trainer, Senior Populations Specialist