Health & Fitness

Take steps now to make yourself fall-proof

You probably already know that the biggest cause of injury and disability to those 50 and older is falls. A simple misstep on a set of stairs can break bones. A slip in the shower can mean a skull fracture.

You may not think it’s anything that you have to worry about, but even the fittest and most active baby boomers can fall — much to their surprise. I just visited a friend approaching 70 who still runs marathons. My visit was to his hospital bed, where he landed after tripping over his own dog. He was astonished that he’d broken his hip in such a simple fall, a common injury for seniors. He learned the hard way that there are three big steps to fall-proofing yourself if you’re of boomer age or older.

1. Step one is balance. The better your balance, the less likely you are to fall if you get off center. Remember, balance is not a “sense,” like hearing or smell. It’s more of an “ability,” like being able to run fast or throw a ball. Nearly everyone can do those things, but they can improve their abilities with practice. The same with balance. It’s something your body learns with practice.

Improve your balance with simple exercises, like standing first on one foot, then on the other. Now do it with your eyes closed. Next, stand on each foot with your upper body bent over. Then, with your fingers gently touching a solid surface for support, lean first to one side and then the other, doing the exercise on each foot. Allow yourself to relax enough so that neither leg is twitching to find its balance point.

2. Step two is core strength. Good overall strength helps balance, but a strong core will really do the most to improve your balance, because the core is the center of all power. If you have the power to keep yourself upright, you’ll also have the key to staying in balance, even on a slippery surface. You can either hire a personal trainer or do the research on how to strengthen your core. One easy exercise consists of holding heavy objects or a weight to your chest or on your shoulders while sitting on a sturdy bench or stool, and slowly turning from side to side without moving below the hips. Sit-ups will also help strengthen your core. Constantly stay aware of keeping your spine straight and shoulders back. The “senior slump” is one cause of bad balance.

3. Step three is the control of your personal environment, the place where you live. Most falls happen in the home, so make your home as fall-proof as possible. That means removing throw rugs, area rugs or runners that are not firmly taped down. Get rid of piles of paper, magazines or clothing that can cause you to trip. If there’s a piece of furniture that you frequently bump into with resulting bruises, give it away or sell it. In addition, put a non-slip mat on the floor of your tub or shower stall.

By making your body and your environment as safe from falls as possible, you’ll add to your vigor and health as you get older. That’s a tradeoff money can’t buy.