No matter what age you are, you are likely to fall down at some point. Being physically active actually increases your risk of falling, but lowers your chance of injuring yourself when you do fall. Falling down occasionally occurs even if you’re in good shape and have excellent balance. Falls in your home happen the most often, commonly occurring in the bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen, but also when you go up and down stairs (particularly down and on the last step). You can reduce the potential impact of falls by being active, though, and sitting around all the time actually makes it more likely that you will fall at some point and hurt yourself. The things that raise your risk of falling the most are having weak thigh muscles (quadriceps), having issues with your balance, not walking normally, losing sensation in your feet, being dizzy, changing your medications, standing upright, wearing glasses that don’t fit well or getting new bifocals, having cataracts or macular degeneration (or other visual problems), having low blood pressure, needing to go to the bathroom frequently, and having a history of falls. Most falls are preventable, though, and there are steps you can take to help you stay on your feet.
Although aging itself raises your risk of falling, staying physically active on a daily basis (or close) may be the most important thing you do to help you stay on your feet. Doing strengthening, balance, and flexibility exercises can help, as can keeping yourself healthy. Studies have shown that doing just six weeks of low-intensity balance training can greatly reduce your risk of falling, even if you have diabetes and loss of sensation in your feet.
The exercises you do to improve your balance don’t have to be complicated. In fact, balance exercises can be as simple as practicing standing on one leg at a time—while holding on with one or both hands and eventually without holding on at all—and then practicing the same thing over with your eyes closed instead of open. All lower body and core resistance training (like doing ab work, planks, and lunges) can help improve your balance and how stable you are when you walk.
You can prevent falls by properly lighting areas where you’re walking (particularly at night), so put nightlights or soft lighting in strategic places around your house at night. It also helps to wear good-fitting shoes, correct your vision (e.g., cataract removal), rest when you get tired, manage your incontinence (for example, by wearing Depend underwear) so you don’t have to rush to the bathroom, and remove floor clutter and throw rugs.
If you’re prone to falling frequently, you may also want to look into wearing hip pads to soften your landings and lower the potential for hip fractures. About 95 percent of all hip fractures result from falls and are the major cause of hospital emergency room visits for injuries. Since hip fractures often lead to an earlier demise, you want to prevent them!
Bunions, calluses, and deformed toes also can modify how you walk or keep you from moving freely, thus heightening your risk of falling. Forget wearing wobbly high-heeled shoes if you want to stay on your feet, particularly as you age. People with diabetes need to be particularly careful if they lose sensation in their feet due to peripheral neuropathy or have other foot changes (like Charcot joints). Inspect your feet daily for problem areas.
Everyone’s balancing ability declines with age - from about the age of 40 onward. You may have always had great balance before, but that does not mean you will continue to have it without working at it. Although falls are less common among adults who are under 60 years old, one in three people over 60 falls each year--which adds up to a lot of falls. Remember to practice balancing on a daily basis to stay more stable on your feet as you get older, and it’s never too early to start practicing.
Even though being active may lead to the occasional fall, being sedentary actually increases your risk of falling rather than reducing it. The weaker and less fit you become, the greater the chance is that you will fall and hurt yourself. In fact, being inactive is probably the leading cause of falls that lead to serious injury--all because you’ve let your body get weaker and less stable (and likely heavier) with all that sitting around. Get up on your feet and get moving to lower your falls risk.
So many of the factors that can increase your risk of falling are within your control. Get out of the habit of leaving clothes on your floor or using throw rugs that can trip you up. Keep in mind that wearing house slippers increases your risk of falling, so get good ones that have a stable base. Adequately light dark areas of your house (especially at night) so you can see where you’re going when you move around.
Whatever you do, though, don’t stop being physically active due to fear of falling or it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy! If you choose to limit your activities because you’re afraid of falling (or maybe you’ve fallen before and don’t want to fall again), your physical condition will start to deteriorate, and you’ll be more likely to fall when you are on your feet.
How frequently or urgently you have to go to the bathroom affects your risk of falling. The more times you have to get up at night to urinate, the more likely you are to fall. If you’re rushing to make it to the bathroom at any time of day, you’re more likely to fall due to your abnormally rapid pace. Use strategies to limit your need to race to the bathroom.
By keeping yourself healthy, strong, stable, and physically active by doing daily exercise, you can greatly reduce your risk of falling or getting injured when you do fall down. Definitely keep yourself from falling into the trap of doing less activity if you’re afraid of falling because being sedentary actually increases your risk of falling and injuring yourself. Work on balance exercises daily for the best results, and include some activities that increase your core body and lower body strength. Take other simple precautions to reduce your risk of falling, such as correcting your vision and keeping clothing and other items off the floor. Whatever you do, don’t stop being physically active due to fear of falling or it will likely become a self-fulfilling prophecy!
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