Many aging adults fear that as their bodies succumb to old age, they won’t be as stable on their feet. And because they feel increasingly unstable, they figure the key to injury prevention is avoiding any physical activity. The fear is even greater in osteoporosis patients, who are more likely to experience bone fractures as the result of a fall.
The fear isn’t without cause. Falls account for a significantly high number of injuries in older adults, and broken bones can often lead to long-term hospitalization and other crippling conditions. That’s why injury prevention is so important, and researchers at Spain’s University of Extremadura have found the perfect anti-aging fitness solution. They discovered that balance training helps prevent falls, and therefore has a hand in fall-related injury prevention.
To test their theory of the link between balance training and injury prevention, the researchers developed a balance training program for 40 seniors living in nursing homes. The participants were all good candidates for injury prevention because they had a fear of falling, or were considered high-risk for future falls. Half of the individuals served as a control group. The other half was enrolled in a 12-week balance training program that used a machine called the Biodex Balance System—designed to improve balance and increase agility—twice a week. All 40 participants received the same care that they otherwise would, like regular physiotherapy and nursing care.
The researchers analyzed several factors both before and after the course of the training program: the individuals’ self-reported fear of falling, their level of balance, and their lower-body strength. All of these factors contribute to how steady you are on your feet, which subsequently affect the level of injury prevention required to keep you safe and healthy.
The study revealed that the adults that completed the balance training program showed improvements across the board—their fear of falling decreased, and they had better balance and strength in their knee flexors and extensors. The findings support the idea that performing balance training exercises can reduce the risk of falls, which is without a doubt the most effective injury prevention strategy.
The best thing about using balance training as a fall-related injury prevention technique is that you can exercise at home. Injury prevention exercises for balance can be as simple as holding on to a chair while standing on one foot. Alternate between legs and gradually work your way up so that you can do it comfortably without holding on. Another easy injury prevention exercise at home is walking in a straight line, but as you step forward, place your advancing foot directly in front of the rear foot so that they’re touching heel to toe. Start by holding on to something for balance, but as you get better, let go and look straight ahead.
On top of exercise at home, there are also other important injury prevention measures you should take. Look where you’re walking—keep an eye out for ice patches, uneven surfaces, pedestrians, and other such obstacles. Inspect the inside of your home too, because injury prevention from falls is easier when there aren’t things laying around that you can easily trip over. Also, invest in a good pair of walking shoes—spending money on safe, comfortable footwear is cheaper than a trip to the E.R.
Another important injury prevention measure is to listen to what your body is telling you. If you’re tired, take a break. If you’re having trouble seeing clearly, get it checked immediately. If you’re on certain medications, be aware of any possible side effects that might make you unsteady on your feet. And above all, know that exercise can actually help you become more confident and secure—helping you prevent those troublesome falls.