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People who don’t view themselves as particularly athletic still need to engage in exercise to maintain their independence. So when you ask, “What is physical fitness?” the answer is anything that enhances your strength, flexibility, and mobility.
Balance and mobility, after all, are based on a certain degree of strength in both the upper and lower body. Difficulty in getting up, or pushing upward with your arms, from a chair or sofa might be an indication of upper body weakness. Lower-body weakness or unsteadiness is a warning sign for potential falls and decreased mobility.
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HOW TO PREVENT FALLS
What is physical fitness? It’s one of several factors that can help prevent most falls. The keys to making sure you’re safe include the following:
- Improve your balance
- Maintain or increase your mobility
- Increase your strength and flexibility
- Make your home safer
- Identify medications that may contribute to falls
- Explain why poor hearing and vision are related to a surprising number of falls
Falling: How Does It Happen?
Falls can happen to anyone, but the common denominator in most falls is age. Many of the people at high risk for falls are the same ones who have lost some of their mobility. One in every three adults 65 years and older will fall this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries.
An injury that begins with a fall can develop into restricted mobility that negatively affects the way you live. At first it’s a “hard to get around” situation, but it can end with a smaller world in which a person can’t walk very far, can’t drive, can’t travel, and can’t enjoy normal activities that once were taken for granted.
Balance Training Benefits
Researchers at the University of Sydney found that strength and flexibility tasks embedded in the daily activities of a group of men and women over the age of 70 reduced the rate of falls by 31 percent.
The participants assigned to a program consisting of walking, stepping over objects, and moving from a sitting to standing position reported significantly fewer falls than participants who engaged in a traditional lower-body exercise program and those who were assigned to a sham exercise group. They also displayed better balance, increased ankle strength, and improved function and participation in daily life.
Falling: Myths vs. Facts
There are as many myths about falls as there are about potential loss of mobility.
Myth #1: Falls happen to other people, not to me.
Fact: Remember that statistic about one out of three older adults falling each year? If you are 65 or older, you have a 33 percent chance of falling this year. If it doesn’t happen this year, you face increased odds next year and every year after that.
Myth #2: Taking medication doesn’t increase my risk of falling.
Fact: Medications may increase your risk of falling by making you sleepy or dizzy, says the National Council on Aging. Talk to your health care provider about potential side effects, and be especially careful when starting a new medication.
Myth #3: There is no need to get my vision checked every year.
Fact: Vision is a key risk factor for falls. People with vision problems are twice as likely to fall as those without an impairment. Get your eyes checked every year, and update your glasses if necessary.
Myth #4: Falls are not as serious as cancer or heart disease, so I don’t need to talk to family members or my doctor(s) if I’m concerned about my risk of falling.
Fact: Preventing falls is a team effort and something that should be discussed with your doctor, family, and others in a position to help.
Myth #5: I don’t need to talk to a parent, spouse, or other adult if I’m concerned about his or her risk of falling.
Fact: Yes, you do. Without being threatening, let the person know about your concerns and offer support to help him or her maintain the highest degree of independence possible.
Originally published in 2016, this post is regularly updated.