Natalie Milverton – Exercise Physiologist
Walking is an essential way of moving and a movement we often take for granted. When we walk, it is easy enough to trip, slip or lose our footing. This risk of falling increases with age and certain conditions, including diseases that affect the nerves and sensation in the lower leg, vision disturbances, inner ear imbalances and how we walk. Older adults are most at risk of falls, leaving greater risk for injury including bone fractures and prolonged hospital stays. Falls can contribute to reduced independent living, poorer quality of life and fear of falling.
The good news is that many falls are preventable, and exercise is an effective means to help reduce fall incidence and prevent injury.
While exercise is unable to improve eye sight or inner ear function, it can benefit your strength, balance, body awareness and ability to react while also reducing the risk of fractures if you do happen to fall. So if exercise is so beneficial, what should you be doing and how much?
Balance & Falls prevention:
When falls prevention comes to mind the first suggestion is to improve balance. For balance training to reduce the risk of falling the exercises must be challenging enough, be delivered in a high volume (total of two hours across the week) and be performed regularly, while also being relevant to the tasks that test your balance.
An Accredited Exercise Physiologist will assess your initial balance ability, considering its safety and appropriateness and progressing the task once it is mastered. Examples of balance exercises include:
- Placing your feet closer together or holding difficult positions
- Standing on unstable or unpredictable surfaces
- Dynamic movements where you change positions
- Staying balanced while performing a dual task
While challenging your balance is a vital part of reducing falls risk, strength also plays a role as strength declines consistently after the age of 40. Strengthening the leg muscles is essential and even more so for deconditioned individuals where movement can lead to improved function. Such training should be tailored to the larger muscles – quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals and calves – while also replicating movements we use for everyday activities such as sitting and standing, lunging to the floor and stepping over or around objects. Strength training can use your bodyweight, machines, weights, and bands, and be performed with clinical supervision or at home. For time efficiency strength and balance exercises can also be combined!
Your balance and strength journey at Beyond can follow one of three options which are selected according to your assessment results, goals and overall health. We have 1:1 exercise sessions (30-minute or 60-minute option) with our Exercises Physiologists for deconditioned individuals or those with a high falls risk, low confidence or exercise experience and/or additional health concerns. Individuals can transition from a 1:1 format to a group strength (maximum of three participants) session comprised of individually tailored exercises. A home program can be created at any stage of your movement journey considering your preferences, lifestyle habits and motivations.
What about walking?
Interestingly, people who have a higher risk of falls or a falls history are not recommended to take up a brisk walking program straight away, as it can increase exposure to trip hazards. Considering there are many additional benefits of walking, an Exercise Physiologist will help focus on strength and balance, building towards a walking program and active lifestyle. Exercising for 30-minutes, five days a week can improve your bodyweight, strengthen your bones, promote better sleep and improve your mental health, while also reducing the risk of other chronic health conditions like diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and weight gain.
Now that we know the benefits of balance and strength training in reducing and preventing falls, how can you get started? It’s as easy as calling one of our clinics in Hawthorn, Blackburn or Windsor to schedule your initial movement assessment with an Exercise Physiologist who can help you establish a program tailored to your movement, environment and health needs. Following your initial appointment, you can start your movement journey with a supervised 1:1, group strength and/or a home program. Remember, we are here to help you move through life one strong and stable step at a time!