Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide to Chicago

Healthy Lifestyle:
Sidestepping Falls

When it comes to falling, seniors are right to be cautious. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 1.8 million people 65 and older are treated in emergency rooms for falls each year, and about a quarter are hospitalized, many with broken bones. Being overly cautious and cutting back on your physical activity, however, may just increase your risk. Muscle weakness and poor balance, increased by a sedentary lifestyle, are two of the most often-cited causes of falls.

The moral: if you want to keep on your feet, you've got to keep active. Even walking 30 minutes a day five days a week can make a remarkable difference, as researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have discovered. They placed half their group of 400 seniors on a regular exercise program and simply advised the rest on how to lead a healthier life. The workout group scored significantly better on tests of overall fitness and balance—and were significantly more mobile.

Some of the best activities are exercises that build strength, balance, and coordination. A good choice is tai chi, a popular form of Chinese martial arts that emphasizes slow, graceful motion. A number of studies have shown that seniors who did tai chi regularly improved on measures of balance, flexibility, strength, and endurance.  Other helpful activities include yoga, Pilates, and stretch and dance classes. The key is to stick with it. Improvements will happen gradually over the course of several months.

Exercise is the first element in a four-part strategy that the Centers for Disease Control has developed to help seniors minimize the risk of falls. You should also:

There's another advantage besides physical safety to taking these precautions. You regain your confidence and your freedom to lead your life without the fear that you're one step away from a bad fall.

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