Sep 26, 2014 11:00 AM

Author: Eryn Gorang

Growing older comes with some perks, such as retirement and senior discounts. But age may also bring on creaking knees, bad backs, and overall an increased likelihood of injury from falls. So what should you, or an elderly loved one, be doing now to prevent dangerous falls from happening in the future?  Start by sitting and standing.

“You need to move your body against gravity to gain strength in your legs,” says Lee Dibble, physical therapist and associate professor at the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of Utah. “I don’t expect your mom to pick up a dumbbell and you stand behind her to spot her as she does squats, but if she was regularly standing to sitting a few times a day, that is all it takes.” 

Sitting to standing is not the only go-to exercise to prevent falls. Dibble also encourages elderly patients to stay active in other ways, such as taking the stairs or bending down to pick up objects off the floor. Reaching for an item on the ground may seem simple, but it is actually an effective strategy to improve strength and balance. Plus, such movements pay-off big time when it comes to preventing accidents and they require little to no equipment.

“Gravity is a great workout partner. You don’t need some fancy weights or a fancy gym,” says Dibble.

Preventing falls is not only inexpensive; it can be fast and easy, too.  Slash the notion of needing to spend 60 minutes a day, five days a week, immersed in physical activity. Though the more activity the better, Dibble says that even spending an additional 15 minutes per day walking around, moving your head, and being more physically active in general helps a great deal.

Incorporating small changes into daily life may be the first step. But how do you convince a resistant parent or grandparent to get outside the house and make movement a hobby? The key is finding an activity that your elderly loved one enjoys.

“If it is not something that you enjoy doing, it will never be sustained” says Dibble. “So rather than beating your head against the wall with your parent, or relative or friend who is not motivated, it may be better to find an activity that does motivate them.”

From zumba to gardening and Silver Sneakers classes to walking the dog, the sky is the limit when it comes to making movement fun. Even salsa dancing classes are a great option for elderly couples that want to be able to dance with their partner while simultaneously gaining better balance. Whatever the activity, just remember to make it a fun hobby rather than an addition to a to-do list. 

If that still doesn’t work, get creative. Sometimes the best incentive for your elderly parent is the opportunity to spend time with family or friends. For example, Dibble suggests asking your parent to tag-along with the grandchildren on an outing to the park or invite your parent to the movies and purposely park far away from the entrance so they are forced to walk.

Growing older does not have to hurt.  To learn more, listen to the interview about preventing elderly falls with Lee Dibble on The Scope radio.

Eryn Gorang

Eryn is an intern in the Office of Public Affairs and Marketing.

elder care falls exercise

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