Fitness After 50: I’ve fallen and can indeed get up – part 2

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By Vicki Morgan

The Society of Physical Therapy Science and many other health professionals have stated that the elderly have a much higher risk of falling than other age group.

This is largely due to age-related physiological changes, especially declines in the quality and quantity of skeletal muscle. Balance is another huge factor; not in the imbalance per se, but due to the lack of strength that it takes to steady oneself after a stumble.

In 2014, The Society of Physical Therapy Science conducted fall prevention studies with seniors age 75-plus. The study was specifically designed to increase the balance and strength of those deemed “too old to get stronger.” After training seniors to strengthen their hip flexors, hip extensors, hip abductors, knee flexors, knee extensors, ankle dorsiflexors and flexors, their progress was measured by a hand-held dynamometer. Not only did the participants show significant strength improvements in all seven muscle groups, but they also had a significant decrease in fall incidents. In my last article, I promised to provide you with some exercises that have been shown to help strengthen the areas that may assist you if you should fall.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
A set of three elastic resistance bands in various colors (TheraBands were used in the study; their colors indicate amount of resistance). A set of Resistance Loop Bands (usually they come in sets of five). A house pillow.

The House Pillow: An excellent strengthening device! Simply put the pillow between your thighs and gently squeeze/release. Do sets of ten at a time. You can perform this exercise laying down or sitting up straight. Gradually work from a gentle squeeze on your first set, to a fairly good squeeze on your last set. Don’t squeeze too hard at first – it’s easy to overwork these small muscles.  Just squeeze enough to “fire them up” and feel a “slight burn” by the end of your set. You can also place the pillow between your calves, or between your hands as you extend them out in front of your chest. The pillow squeeze is excellent for those with osteoarthritis because it is a non-impact activity.

EDITOR: (INSERT PILLOW PICTURES HERE)

Resistance Loops: There are a wide variety of strengthening exercises using loops. I’ll give you a few, and then feel free to email me for more links and PDF’s. Wrap a light grade resistance loop around your thighs just above the knee. You can do this sitting or lying down on your side with knees bent at a 45 degree angle. Now open and close your legs like a clam shell. Sets of ten should be sufficient. Gradually increase the band resistance by choosing different colors. You can also wrap these around your ankles, forearms or upper thighs and simply separate your limbs and bring them back together. If your mobility is limited, make sure you have someone helping you. Loops can be difficult to manipulate for someone with limited range of motion.

Therabands: Again, there are TONS of strengthening exercises using TheraBands. I’ll give you a few, and then feel free to email me for more links and PDF’s. For the chest, wrap the band around your upper back like a shawl, bring the ends forward with your hands, and then press them parallel out in front of you like a chest press.

Another good one is to grasp the ends in a wide grip, past shoulder width, and bring your arms towards your back as if you’re trying to fly. Ideally, you’d stretch the band across your upper chest. For the shoulders, hold one end in a fist over your heart, and press the other end over your opposite shoulder toward the ceiling. You can control the resistance based on how much slack you give the band. To strengthen the ankles and calves, sit somewhere stable with knees at 45 degrees. Grasp the ends of the TheraBand in each hand and place the band underneath the ball of your foot. Perform a “point and flex” motion while controlling the resistance of the band with your arms.

EDITOR: (INSERT LOOP OR BAND PICTURE HERE)

It’s difficult to explain proper form in a magazine article, so it’s important you proceed cautiously. Here’s the most important part: You’re training the brain first. You only need a light amount of resistance to “fire up” the muscles. The brain will take care of the rest. Most of you will instinctively know when it’s time to increase the resistance level. Be careful not to let those endorphins fool you. You may feel great and be tempted to increase the resistance too soon. The best thing to do is WAIT. See how sore you are after the first few workouts, and then you’ll be able to make an informed decision about how to proceed. One thing you don’t want to do is strain your muscles. It would be a giant step backward.

My sincere hope is that you’ll get permission from your healthcare provider and give it a try. YouTube has free resistance band videos for seniors in all states of ability, from active to chair-bound. Just search “Senior Band Training” in the YouTube search bar. OR, if you want free PDF guides, just email me at victoryfitnessteam@gmail.com and I’ll send you what I’ve got. I’ve also got a terrific article from Medical Guardian with a step-by-step guide about how to get up from a fall.

Like I said in Part One, the goal is to build upper and lower body strength, muscle density, balance and mind-muscle connections via training the brain. Anyone can fall (and nearly everybody will), but with more muscle density and control, you decrease the chances of severe injury, or perhaps you’ll prevent an injury altogether.

Vicki Morgan CPT ACTION is a Senior Strength & Fitness Instructor at Flex Gym and Fitness. You can reach her at 719-445-8566 or visit seniorstrength.pro. Remember to consult a physician before beginning any exercise program. If you experience pain or difficulty, stop and consult your healthcare provider. This article is not meant to take the place of any treatment or activity your physician has deemed necessary. 

REFERENCES: Society of Physical Therapy Science, TherBands is a registered trademark.

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