Falls can be detrimental for an older adult, causing a loss of independence and mobility, isolation, decreased mood, pain, and financial burden (Public Health Agency of Canada [PHAC], 2014, p.2). Research over the past few decades has uncovered several ways for older adults to reduce their fall risk. This includes regular vision screening, medication reviews, home safety and exercise (PHAC, 2014). However, it is well known that of these interventions, exercise is the most effective way to reduce your risk of falling (Petridou et al., 2009; PHAC, 2014).
But what kind of exercise?
For fall prevention benefits the exercise must include strength and balance, increase in difficulty, and be at least 2-3 times per week (Sherrington et al., 2011).
June has been actively involved in creating exercise materials for seniors in B.C. because of her passion and belief of the importance of staying active! We asked June how she got into exercise classes, advice for seniors wanting to start classes, how exercise has impacted her overall wellbeing and tips for staying active in cold weather.
*Q: How did you get into exercise classes, what are their benefits and what advise do you have for seniors who want to join their first class?*
A: I started exercise classes because a friend suggested we go together. Prior to this, I had never really gone to the gym because I kept moving and active in life through raising my family. At first the idea of joining an exercise class seemed a bit intimidating. But I quickly learned that whether you bring a friend or not to your first class, you’ll meet wonderful people who will become your friends. Also, there were individuals at my level, and even less experienced- so if they could do it, so could I!
I encourage people to think about where they want to be in 5 years. When I looked at the seniors around me, especially my husband, who’s 90 and still working, golfing and more, I realized that I need to keep up my mobility, strength, and balance if I want to be as independent as him at that age.
Start by calling your local seniors center to explore the different classes. It’s also a good idea to consult your primary care physician or call 811 to speak with an exercise professional. In South Delta, where I live, there are numerous options, and many seniors centers are reasonably priced, with financial assistance available if needed.
Whatever your ability is when you start, you will get better! There is no judgement, and you will have an instructor that will tailor things to your abilities. Remember to wear good footwear for the class, it will go a long way to improve your overall balance and confidence!
*Q: How can following the guidance of a professional (e.g. exercise instructor, physiotherapist, etc.) be beneficial?*
Joining an exercise class can be more beneficial than working out at home on your own. While all exercise is important, I think I get the most exercise benefits from attending my Get Up & Go! class. I strengthen muscles that I forgot about and don’t use on a regular basis. I have improved my balance, which was really important to me given my previous falls. I also learn so many tips in the class that help me with my day-to-day life. For example, my exercise instructor Debbie taught me to land heel first when walking and to pick my feet up instead of shuffling. Small adjustments like that make a big difference. Having an exercise instructor means they can motivate you, make modifications for you when needed, and keep things from getting boring! Also, following along in an exercise class keeps your brain sharp and it feels good to be social with others.
Finally, I want to emphasize how important the role of professionals can be, such as your exercise instructor, physiotherapist, or others. When I had carpel tunnel, my physiotherapist told me to massage the area, but I was too scared to touch it! The physiotherapist helped me understand that if I didn’t take the proper steps, my hand would never return to normal function. I sometimes hold my hand in front of my face to remind me that if I don’t exercise and stay moving, I might lose my mobility!
*Q: How has regular exercise impacted your overall well-being?*
A: Exercise has kept me going, especially after having two knee replacements. I think without exercise I wouldn’t have the mobility or independence I do now. Exercise does more than just help me physically, mentally it helps me clear my mind. Even just going for a walk to the end of the block and back can be really good for your brain. I believe that the reason my brain is so active and sharp is because I exercise regularly. I am inquisitive, curious, and love asking questions!
*Q: Any tips for physical activity during colder months?*
A: Dress for the weather and go for a walk, even if it’s just to the end of the block and back. When working out indoors, do exercises at your kitchen counter, like marching, raising your hands above your head, and different balance exercises. You can follow along to online videos for request paper handouts from your local seniors centre to follow!
Petridou, E. T., Manti, E. G., Ntinapogias, A. G., Negri, E., & Szczerbińska, K. (2009). What works better for community-dwelling older people at risk to fall? A meta-analysis of multifactorial versus physical exercise-alone interventions. Journal of aging and health, 21(5), 713-729.
Public Health Agency of Canada. (2014). Seniors’ Falls in Canada: Second Report. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/phac-aspc/migration/phac-aspc/seniors-aines/publications/public/injury-blessure/seniors_falls-chutes_aines/assets/pdf/seniors_falls-chutes_aines-eng.pdf
Sherrington, C., Tiedemann, A., Fairhall, N., Close, J. C., & Lord, S. R. (2011). Exercise to prevent falls in older adults: an updated meta-analysis and best practice recommendations. New South Wales public health bulletin, 22(4), 78-83.