Workout

Like a fine wine, we’d all like to think we are getting better with age. The good news is that with a little bit of effort and exercise, you can prevent many of the pitfalls associated with aging – including falls!

There is plenty of evidence to show that exercise helps people at any age. People who exercise regularly are more likely to avoid medication or surgery, and are at lower risk for falling. Exercise also helps your brain stay mentally sharp. There are four types of exercise that can improve your fitness:

Endurance

Try and take a 20-minute walk every day. Don’t have 20 minutes? Take a ten minute walk. Every little bit helps. You should be walking fast enough that you can still chat, but do feel that you are working a bit. Improving your endurance will make it easier to go grocery shopping, or go on other errands.

The US Surgeon General has launched a new initiative to encourage people to walk more as a form of daily fitness. Step it Up! encourages walking and walkable communities. He even has suggested a Walking Pandora Playlist.

Strength

To strengthen muscles, you have to work them. Working your muscles can range from exercising at the gym to lifting (unopened!) canned goods at home. One easy exercise for people of all ages to try at home is to practice moving from sit to stand. See how many times you can move from sitting to standing in 30 seconds, then practice to see if you can improve on that number.

Flexibility

Being flexible allows your body to stay limber and move as you want it to. When people have pain, such as in their knee or back, it limits joint motion, so they move less, and then become stiffer, and then have more pain, and then are more likely to fall. It’s a harsh cycle. To stay moving you need to keep moving!

Balance

Having good balance helps prevent falls. When your balance is good, you can easily adapt to walking over uneven ground or getting bumped in a crowd. Falls are the number one cause of unintentional injury and death in people over age 65 (National Center for Health Statistics, 2013). Tai chi is a great exercise to improve both balance and flexibility.

What can I do?

Move! Go for a walk, find an exercise class – there are many classes in the community that are geared to senior citizens. If you have chronic disease, have fallen, or have other concerns, ask your doctor for a referral to physical therapy to learn how to exercise safely. Physical therapists are movement experts, who want to help you learn how to overcome pain, gain movement, and maintain your independence.

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Cathy Shearer, MPA, PT, GCS, is an inpatient physical therapist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, and Education Chair of the Vermont Chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association.  

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