Sep 23, 2014 — One of the best ways to prevent falls as one ages is maintaining good physical strength and balance. Question is, what kind of exercises help do that? Dr. Lee Dibble, Physical Therapist, says doing a few simple things around the house just a few minutes a day can make a huge difference. He also has a couple sneaky ideas to get older parents and grandparents exercising more without them even realizing it.

Interview

Interviewer: Exercising. What are some exercises an elderly person can do to avoid falls? We'll examine that next on The Scope.

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Interviewer: One way you can help prevent falls for elderly people is to make sure that their getting regular exercise, but what exactly does that mean? What should they be doing? Lee Dibble is a physical therapist and associate professor at the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of Utah. When we talk about exercising to prevent falls in elderly people, what are we talking about?

Lee: You need to move your body against gravity to gain strength in your legs. Standing from sitting, that's like a squat. I don't expect your mom to pick up a dumbbell and you to stand behind her and spot her to do squats. But if she was regularly standing from sitting a few times a day, that's all it takes.

Interviewer: Really.

Lee: She has to lift her body weight against gravity. Gravity is a great workout partner, and so you don't need some fancy weights or a fancy gym to be able to do that. We advocate sit to stand activities, we advocate ascending stairs, many people avoid stairs for the purposes of, "I just don't want to sweat. It makes my legs tired." But that is kind of the point. As long as you're safe, and maybe you need someone with you, if you were just to climb the stairs a couple of times a day, that strength benefit from ascending the stairs and working your legs out pays dividends over the long term.
Even squatting down to pick up objects off the floor. One of the beauties of doing activities like that, picking objects up off the floor, is it's a balance exercise as well as a strengthening exercise. She has to bend down, as long as her knees don't hurt, and pick up the object. She has to then sustain her balance as she comes back up to standing. So she's done an exercise that is dual purpose. She's challenged her balance, and it's made her legs stronger.

Interviewer: What about the person that is going to have a hard time convincing their parent or grandparent that you need to get up and walk and move around. What tips do you have for that person?

Lee: One of the challenges with any physical activity or exercise program for any of us, is sustaining motivation. If it's not something you enjoy doing, it will never be sustained. So rather than beating your head against the wall with your parent or relative or friend that is not motivated, it might be better to try to find an activity that does motivate them. I spend more time doing Parkinson's disease research, and one of my colleagues in Saint Louis ended up falling upon tango dancing as a means of trying to improve a person's balance and movement function in Parkinson's disease. It's a wonderful hobby for some of these participants to be able to dance with their significant other at the same time that they're gaining balance benefits. It seems like it's a hobby as opposed to exercise.

Interviewer: So even if it's just, "Hey, mom. Let's go out to the park."

Lee: Right. "Let's go out to the park and watch your grandkids."

Interviewer: Yeah.

Lee: Or, "Could we go see a movie?" and purposely park a little farther away.

Interviewer: That's good. Or go to the grocery if you're taking your mom or grandma to the grocery store, park a little further away.

Lee: It's a little bit devious but it may work.

Interviewer: Clever. Any final thoughts on keeping strong as you get older to prevent falls?

Lee: I'm not advocating that a person has to dedicate five days a week for an hour every week to make sure that they meet these goals for reducing their fall risk. I'm advocating an increase in physical activity. A person that gets up and spends fifteen minutes more per day on a daily basis walking around, being physically active, moving their head, that will pay dividends. Certainly if you motivated a person to do more, you get more benefit. But the return on investment becomes a little bit less as you get higher. The most return on investment is going from being sedentary to being physically active, so we need to try to motivate people to make that leap.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.


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